March 9, 2017 / 9:51 PM / 6 months ago

USDA has $80 million-$90 million to fight bird flu

FILE PHOTO: A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) scientist measures the amount of H7N9 avian flu virus which was grown and harvested in an unnamed CDC laboratory in 2013. James Gathany/CDC/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has $80 million to $90 million left over from the last major outbreak of bird flu to fight any new discoveries of the virus, the department’s chief veterinary officer said on Thursday.

USDA must appeal to Congress if more money is needed to fight the disease, which was recently found in two U.S. states and also has been confirmed across Asia and in Europe.

Any potential request for emergency funding is complicated as U.S. President Donald Trump’s choice for the position has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

“It would be more streamlined of course if there was a secretary here,” Jack Shere, USDA’s chief veterinary officer said in an interview.

Trump’s nominee for secretary of agriculture, Sonny Perdue, holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine.

“When we have outbreaks of bird flu happening all over the world, we need someone with his background and knowledge in the office ASAP,” said Marcus Rust, a member of Trump’s agricultural advisory committee and chief executive of Rose Acre Farms, the second biggest U.S. egg producer.

It costs about $1 million to $2 million in indemnity payments to pay farmers for the birds that must be killed by any outbreak of the disease. The USDA also uses the funds to kill any affected birds, as well as dispose of the bodies and clean the poultry farms, a process known as virus elimination and disinfection.

Congress authorized $1 billion to fight a bird flu epidemic that devastated the U.S. poultry industry in 2014 and 2015. USDA spent $600 million of that on virus elimination and disinfection and $200 million in indemnity payments, Shere said.

Nearly 50 million birds, mostly egg-laying hens were killed during that outbreak.

U.S. officials are working to determine how a Tennessee farm, which was a supplier to Tyson Foods Inc, became infected with a strain of highly pathogenic H7 bird flu. All 73,500 birds there were killed by the disease or suffocated with foam to prevent its spread government and company officials said on Sunday.

A strain of low pathogenic H5N2 avian flu was discovered in a flock of 84,000 turkeys in Barron County, Wisconsin.

Additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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