Flu cases expose need for research

Daily Editorial Board

Gov. Mark Dayton last week declared a state of emergency after an outbreak of avian flu that has devastated Minnesota’s turkeys spread to one of the state’s chicken farms. 
 
Dayton will not call on the National Guard, but the declaration will allow for closer correspondence between the Minnesota Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. 
 
The H5N2 virus has affected 45 commercial turkey farms and, as of Thursday, at least one wild flock of turkeys. Fortunately, it is not believed to be harmful to humans, and none of the farmers who work with the affected birds have been reported ill. 
 
But because Minnesota is the largest turkey producer in the United States, the bird flu could have serious ramifications for the state’s economy. Hormel Foods, which is based in Austin, Minn., saw a 3 percent drop in shares last Tuesday after it admitted that its sales were expected to decline because of avian flu. 
 
Widespread fear of infection could seriously diminish the demand for Minnesota’s turkey products. Therefore, we advise the Minnesota government to clearly express that this strain of avian flu currently poses little risk to humans. 
 
We also hope these recent developments encourage lawmakers to fund University of Minnesota researchers who can develop ways to reduce flu transmission between birds, increase poultry farm sanitation and improve carcass disposal methods. These measures would help struggling farms recover, and they would reduce the likelihood of any future outbreaks of disease.