Poultry testing labs awarded funding

by Benjamin Farniok

In the midst of the avian flu outbreak, new testing methods could help researchers detect the disease more accurately in rural Minnesota birds.
Last week, the state Legislature allocated more than $8.5 million to a University of Minnesota veterinary lab in Willmar, Minn. The funding will go toward expanding the facility and changing the type of testing used to detect diseases in poultry.
Tests at the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory, run jointly by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and the University, look for disease symptoms in the birds, said Dale Lauer, the lab’s director. The funding, he said, will help add testing equipment that can actually detect the flu, which is now only available at labs on the
University’s St. Paul campus.
The facility will also expand to better accommodate the number of cases coming in, Lauer said. So far, the laboratory has had trouble keeping up with the disease, which has resulted in the death of more than 9 million birds.
“We are quite frankly running out of room to handle and manage these kind of events,” he said.
Though facilities on the St. Paul campus are equipped to handle the outbreak, a rural laboratory will make it easier for farmers to get their flocks tested, said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota.
“Having the Minnesota testing lab be able to do [new testing] will expand our capacity [and] increase our turnaround time,” Olson said. “Just the distance to drive will save growers hours.”
Lauer said adding a lab with new testing capabilities will give researchers and farmers the ability to kill ill birds faster and help contain the flu. Cleaning and replacing the farm with healthy birds can take months, he said.
The lab tests for diseases other than avian flu, though they’re less likely to result in the death of an entire flock, Lauer said.
According to the MBAH, 108 Minnesota farms have been affected by avian flu. Of those, 40 are located in Kandiyohi County, near the Willmar lab. 
Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said the improvements are likely to replenish turkey farms faster and increase business for Minnesota’s turkey industry, which is the largest in the country.
“[Avian flu] just about wiped out all of the flocks in our county. This testing lab would be extremely helpful in the future,” Baker said.
The Legislature’s proposal awarded the University veterinary school a total of about $26.5 million. The remaining $18 million will be used to replace isolation labs used to study diseases on the St. Paul campus.