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State Leaders Approve Funding To Stop Bird Flu

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Help is on the way for Minnesota farmers trying to bounce back from this year's devastating outbreak of the bird flu.

Millions of turkeys and chickens have had to be euthanized, and the State Fair is canceling all bird exhibits this year as a precaution. Now, state lawmakers have approved $20 million to help farmers with loans and state agencies trying to contain the virus.

Lawmakers from some of the hardest hit areas of the state say the challenge here is figuring out how to stop the spread of the virus. Until that happens, there's no telling if $20 million will be enough to make a significant impact.

But they know the poultry farmers need this help now. The federal government is already giving millions to help with the devastating impact of Avian flu. But it's only to help farmers cover the cost of euthanizing the animals.

House Agriculture committee chair Rod Hamilton said this $20 million goes to help farmers replenish the flock, and for the state to research how to contain the virus.

"Long-term research, rapid response, we are going to invest additional dollars in the University of Minnesota and other entities so we can gain not only a better understanding of this but plan for future outbreaks as well," Hamilton said.

Representative Dave Baker from Willmar area says it's among the hardest hit areas. He says lawmakers worked across the aisle to help stop this crisis.

"Just millions of birds in Kandiyohi County alone and so our growers our suppliers processors are struggling to get through this thing and find an answer of why our birds are dying," Baker said.

Just this weekend, lawmakers say they learned of another outbreak in Renville about two hours west of the Twin Cities that may result in some two million egg-laying chickens being destroyed. More than 5.7 million birds have been affected so far in Minnesota.

"It is anybody's guess. These producers are doing everything they can," Baker said.

The hope is warmer weather will help stop the spread of the virus, but lawmakers point out without research to stop avian flu before it starts, the risk returns next fall and winter. There is language in the bill that's being passed that would provide additional emergency funding over the summer months, even when the session is over, if needed.

This funding isn't tied to the budget talks that are at a standstill right now. They are a from a separate fund.

In fact, lawmakers are confident the Gov. Mark Dayton will sign the bill this week and the money could go out to the people who need it within in the week.

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