Michigan farmers on high alert as bird flu spreads

Posted at 10:21 PM, May 21, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-21 22:26:55-04

Lansing, Mich. -- It`s an illness that`s cause four different states to declare emergencies. Since December, avian influenza has left millions of chickens and turkeys across the U.S sick, forcing farmers to put them down.

Here in Michigan, state officials are on high alert, with farmers doing everything they can to prevent it from entering our state.

Just last week, officials found avian flu in Indiana, the closest known case to Michigan.

Val Vail-Shirey with Michigan Allied Poultry Industries Incorporated said that the key is to be proactive, trying to keep avian influenza, or commonly known as bird flu, out of Michigan.

"As that has grow in numbers and moved closer to the mid-west, the farmers are very diligent in their bio-security measures and have ramped them up," said Vail-Shirey.

Vail-Shirey said that there are about 15 million hens laying eggs at eight family ran farms in Michigan for commercial distribution. The illness reaching one of those farms, she said would be devastating.

"My simple street shoe could carry influenza back to my farm of five million laying hens, and that would be catastrophic," said Vail-Shirey.

Vail-Shirey said that shoes, clothing and truck tires are just a few of the way the flu can spread, forcing Michigan poultry farmers to take extreme steps not taken before.

"When it's a closed gate at the entrance of a farm or in some cases security guards sitting there, that would probably be considered increased bio-security," said Vail-Shirey.

Vail-Shirey said that farm workers are showering and changing into different clothes when they show up to work. Then, repeating that process before going home. Employees are also keeping their own vehicles miles away from the farm, all out of fear the avian flu could spread.

Their efforts should be applauded said Vail-Shirey, successfully keeping the illness out of Michigan since the first known case in the United States back in December.

Since then, the flu has sicken about 35 million chickens and almost six million turkeys, ultimately causing them to be killed.

"The long term consequences is the rebuilding and that is months and years to be able to get back up to those numbers that we have today that feed the state, feed the country, feed the world," said Vail-Shirey.

As the state of Michigan takes extreme caution with who and what enters our poultry farms, Vail-Shirey said that there is no reason for consumers to be concerned.

"Any of the sick birds do not enter the food chain and everything that you'll find at your local market is safe food and you should feel absolutely comfortable to eat and feed to your family," said Vail-Shirey.

As for an expected price increase, Vail-Shirey said that no one knows for sure, but it could amount to an extra 15 cents per dozen eggs you buy at the store.