The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plans to review its protocols regarding bird-flu response after the agency came under criticism for its slow and confusing handling of what is considered the worst outbreak of the avian disease in the country's history.

At a hearing organized by the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, John Clifford, chief veterinary officer of the USDA, said that the agency's goal is to establish better communication with affected farmers by having one representative stay at each facility during the course of the infection.

Clifford explained that the USDA's current protocols require one agency officer to deal with an infected farm for about three to four weeks as part of a rotation.

He said that assigning a liaison officer to each infected farm can help address questions from farmers and improve their situation.

Clifford added that the Agriculture Department also plans to include federal workers in contract crews in order to monitor the handling of the bird flu virus.

Since December 2014, the bird flu outbreak has killed over 48 million turkeys and chickens in the United States. The disease has also severely affected the production of eggs in the country, especially in the state of Iowa.

Clifford said the USDA has undertaken steps to better handle the outbreak, and despite initial delays, the agency has caught up on culling birds infected by the disease. Delays such as these can potentially increase the likelihood for the virus to spread to other areas.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst from Iowa pointed out that farmers have complained about the USDA's process for gaining approval to cull infected birds, receiving compensation for losses and restocking barns with new birds. She said that it has been very slow and frustrating process for farmers.

Brad Moline, a turkey farmer from Iowa and National Turkey Federation representative, said that there was mass confusion in the state regarding the government's response to the outbreak. He told the senate committee that the Agriculture Department as well as state officials should have created a better game plan to address the situation.

The spread of the bird flu has slowed down lately because of warmer weather, but the USDA believes a resurgence of the disease could occur in the fall, as migratory birds will likely carry the virus during their annual journey south.

The USDAS wants to stock up on poultry vaccines before the start of autumn, but it has yet to decide whether to use them. The agency will first have to assess its potential effects to international trade.

Photo: David Goehring | Flickr 

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