The Moline farm, located near Manson, Iowa was the first turkey farm to restock after the worst animal disease outbreak in U.S. history regardless of species. To learn more about how Moline and his family handled the avian flu outbreak, I spoke with Brad Moline who is a fourth generation producer whose family has been producers turkeys for 91 years.
Moline and his family lost their entire flock of turkeys, in all barns, throughout all of their sites in May. His turkeys tested positive on a Tuesday in May and by that Saturday he and his family began depopulating the entire farm. During this time, Moline said it was vitally important to assure their customers that all birds being delivered to processing plants were healthy and to instill confidence in consumers that all meat sold in stores was safe.
“It’s incredible to see how fast the avian flu moves through the turkeys,” said Moline. “It breaks your heart because there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. It’s completely out of your hands, and there’s no treatment for it.”
Prior to the outbreak, his farm had biosecurity measures in place, including never parking vehicles near a barn and changing boots prior to entering. Once the avian flu was identified in the area, they stepped up protocols; Moline’s entire team wore dedicated coveralls and clothing for each barn. But for him, and many other producers, these extra measures were too late.
Moline said they still do not know how the avian flu descended on his farm. More than likely, he said, it was from wild birds such as sparrows, which are able to enter barns through the ventilation systems. Another likely candidate was the wind.
Looking back on the incident, Moline stresses that going forward, more biosurveillance is needed especially in the spring and fall. He is calling for more testing of wild birds as well as more testing of turkey flocks. In addition, more education among producers and hunters is needed, said Moline, because wild ducks and geese can be carriers and hunters could inadvertently track the disease on their boots or clothes into grocery stores.
Moline also believes the USDA needs to develop a faster protocol for depopulation in order to contain the virus. “The protocol now is if you have it you have to kill the whole farm. But in listening to the USDA, if they do more biosurveillance and testing and there is faster depopulation, you may be able to contain it to a single barn or a single area of the farm,” said Moline.
Other measures are also in place. For example, the vaccine for turkeys is expected to be ready this fall or spring; there is already a vaccine for chickens. Moline cautions, though, that vaccinating should only be used a tool, not as a precaution.
But would these enhanced biosecurity actions be safe? Moline says absolutely. He hopes an outbreak of this nature never happens again, but if it does, he believes his farm, and others, will be even better prepared.
*This article was adapted from the original article, “Biosecurity Lessons from Avian Flu Outbreak,” published in Food Quality & Safety.