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USDA issues federal order to fight spread of deadly strain of bird flu

Brown dairy calves try to balance as they sway with the momentum of interstate travel.
Courtesy the Animal Welfare Institute
A group of calves crammed together in a travel trailer as they make a grueling 19-hour trip from Minnesota to New Mexico.

This story is part of our new Quick Hits series. This series will bring you breaking news and short updates from throughout the state.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued a federal order to prevent the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). The highly contagious disease has been detected in dairy cattle in the U.S.

Beginning on Monday, April 29 dairy producers will be required to test their cattle at an approved National Animal Health Laboratory Network lab before travel. There are only two labs in this network in Wyoming; both are in Laramie.

Cattle must test negative for the disease before being transported via the interstate. Owners of cattle that test positive will be required to provide information about their cattle, including animal movement tracing.

The disease has been found in cattle in New Mexico, South Dakota and Idaho, among five other states. Officials say the virus is "a threat to animal health, human health, trade, and the economy worldwide."

The federal order comes after the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) petitioned the USDA to establish fitness and transport standards for vulnerable animals transported via the Interstate system. International standards prohibit calves less than two weeks old from long-distance transport.

Adrienne Craig, an attorney who works with AWI, warned that transporting extremely young calves to ranches where they mix with other calves from various farms could make it easier to spread disease.

"We're dealing with the consequences of zoonotic disease," said Craig. "COVID-19, the bird flu… which has been passed to dairy cows at this point. There are broader consequences for public health that could affect everybody in the country."

On April 1, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the second known case of avian flu in the U.S. It was transmitted from cattle to an employee of a Texas dairy farm.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

David Dudley is an award-winning journalist who has written for The Guardian, The Christian Science Monitor, High Country News, WyoFile, and the Wyoming Truth, among many others. David was a Guggenheim Crime in America Fellow at John Jay College from 2020-2023. During the past 10 years, David has covered city and state government, business, economics and public safety beats for various publications. He lives in Cheyenne with his family.
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