May 10, 2024 - Health

Biden admin will pay dairy farmers for help containing bird flu

Cows graze in a field at a dairy farm on April 26, 2024 in Petaluma, California.

Cows graze in a field at a dairy farm in Petaluma, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

As bird flu outbreaks in dairy cattle are raising concerns about potential human infections, the Biden administration announced Friday nearly $200 million in funding to help contain the spread.

Why it matters: The virus has been detected in cows in in at least nine states this spring. The CDC has said the general public health risk is low, but the government and scientists are closely watching for changes in the virus.

  • Only one known person exposed to dairy cattle in Texas has been infected in the U.S., but some researchers have suggested other cases could be unaccounted for.

What's inside: Under the new funding plan, dairy farmers may be compensated for lost milk supply from infected cattle as well as veterinary costs and safe disposal of milk from infected cows.

  • Farmers were incentivized to provide personal protective equipment to employees and to participate in a workplace study through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • The administration will spend $98 million to provide up to $28,000 per farm to take protective measures and cover for losses, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Zoom in: The new funding includes $101 million to continue mitigating risk and testing, preventing and treating the virus, known as Type A H5N1, the U.S. Department of Health and Human services announced Friday.

  • The CDC has found additional funding to bolster its current response and increase testing and laboratory capacity, surveillance of potential exposures, genomic sequencing, and wastewater monitoring.

What they're saying: "If we institute the countermeasures now, and reduce the spread of the virus ... we're much less likely to see a mutation that jumps to humans for which we're ill-prepared," FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said during a Senate committee hearing this week.

  • The National Milk Producers Federation thanked Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement, saying the measures "offer necessary assistance for dairy farmers as they meet the challenges of H5N1 in dairy cattle."
  • "Care for farm workers and animals is critical for milk producers, as is protecting against potential human health risks and reassuring the public," the trade group representing dairy farmers said.

Between the lines: Dairy farmers have been hesitant to allow health officials on farms to test potentially infected cattle out of concern for how it could affect their businesses, AP reported.

  • Farmworkers, including migrant workers, reportedly have been avoiding testing out of fear they would miss work or get tracked by the government.

The big picture: Up to 75% of new and emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals, and most of those can be traced back to wildlife, Axios' Alison Snyder previously reported.

  • The highly contagious and often deadly bird flu has been spreading globally among mammals in recent years.

Go deeper: Charted: Where bird flu has been detected in wild mammals

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