US Cabinet Secretaries Focus on Avian Flu Response, Water Infrastructure During Visit to NC


This chicken coop owned by Jamie Rogers in Duplin County was flooded after Hurricane Florence, killing all 7,500 to 8,000 birds inside.  They were mixed with wood chips and sawdust and composted in six rows seen here next to the house.

This chicken coop owned by Jamie Rogers in Duplin County was flooded after Hurricane Florence, killing all 7,500 to 8,000 birds inside. They were mixed with wood chips and sawdust and composted in six rows seen here next to the house.

North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

The nation’s top agriculture official told a roundtable of North Carolina farmers and industry representatives Monday that the country is better prepared to deal with a rapidly evolving bird flu than it is. was in 2015.

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who served in the same role during the 2015 outbreak, said this year’s response includes “faster detection, faster quarantine, better biosecurity, more testing and (faster) elimination”.

This year’s bird flu was discovered in 21 states and killed more than 31 million birds that were on commercial poultry farms. In North Carolina, the flu was detected in nine commercial flocks huddled together in Johnston and Wayne counties, forcing farmers to kill 371,352 broiler chickens and 110,213 turkeys.

When bird flu enters a commercial farm, it can spread quickly. In an effort to prevent transmission, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture has been calling for strict biosecurity measures for months.

These include asking farmers to limit visits to barns; wear clean shoes and clothes when entering a new barn; and prevent wild animals and birds from coming into contact with commercial birds.

Steve Troxler, longtime North Carolina agriculture commissioner, said during the previous outbreak, he and the state veterinarian joked that in a similar event they would have to go fishing.

“That was your worst nightmare then,” Troxler said. “Is this my worst nightmare now? Nope.”

North Carolina had no cases on commercial poultry farms during the 2015 outbreak, but, Troxler noted, sent assistance to states with outbreaks to help the state develop a plan.

“Hopefully we handled it here and in other states the way we quickly shut it down and it becomes something we’re really, really good at,” Troxler said.

North Carolina agriculture officials have reported no cases in commercial herds for two weeks.

Both Troxler and Vilsack said extra lab capacity is essential to identify cases and quarantine herds before the virus can spread. All of North Carolina’s initial testing took place at the Agricultural Science Center on Reedy Creek Road, the same building where Monday’s roundtable took place.

Vilsack and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan traveled to Raleigh together to tout the Biden administration’s bipartisan infrastructure law, particularly its potential benefits for rural communities.

The bill, which President Joe Biden signed into law in late 2021, allocates more than $1 trillion over several years. The White House said that under the funding allocation formulas, North Carolina can expect to receive $7.2 billion over five years for highways; $452 million for the replacement and repair of bridges; $910 million to fund public transit; and $109 million to add electric vehicle chargers.

Regan previously served as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality during Governor Roy Cooper’s first term. Regan is from Goldsboro and graduated from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University.

The EPA administrator pointed out that the agency received $50 billion under the Infrastructure Act to help with water infrastructure. This includes $15 billion to remove all lead pipes in the country.

North Carolina’s allocation for 2022 is nearly $200 million, with much of the funding guided by the state’s revolving funds for clean water and drinking water.

“We think a lot of that should go to communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change and storms,” ​​Regan said. “A lot of those communities are our rural communities.”

In December, Regan sent every governor a letter calling on them to prioritize disadvantaged communities when allocating Infrastructure Act funds. To this end, the EPA provides technical assistance to help these communities receive loans through the revolving funds.

Help and funds will be welcome, Troxler said, especially in eastern North Carolina, which he says has seen increased flooding due to development in the Piedmont region of the state. .

After Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, North Carolina officials began thinking about how to protect low-lying communities from flooding and heavy rains, including $20 million in the state budget for a statewide “flood plan” that will be used to prioritize mitigation projects.

“It’s possible we’re 20 years behind before we start, so it’s going to take a while, but I think it’s a solvable problem,” Troxler said.

During Monday’s roundtable, Regan also updated the assembled agriculture officials on his recent overhaul of the EPA’s Farms, Ranches and Rural Communities Advisory Committee.

The tasks of this committee, Regan said, will include identifying opportunities to reduce methane emissions on farms; find ways in which nutrient management can benefit both water and climate; and managing water scarcity. It will examine how public-private partnerships or voluntary incentives can achieve these goals.

“EPA’s mission is to protect public health and the environment, a responsibility I take very seriously,” Regan said, “but I also believe that mission goes hand in hand with food production.”

This story was produced with the financial support of 1Earth Fund, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of a freelance journalism fellowship program. The N&O retains full editorial control of the work.

This story was originally published April 26, 2022 1:59 p.m.

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Adam Wagner covers climate change and other environmental issues in North Carolina. Her work is produced with the financial support of 1Earth Fund, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of a freelance journalism fellowship program. Wagner’s previous work at The News & Observer included coverage of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and North Carolina’s recovery from recent hurricanes. He previously worked at the Wilmington StarNews.


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