Sen. Chuck Schumer is calling on Congress to restore $500 million in recent cuts to the United States Department of Agriculture’s funding to help battle “the worst bird flu outbreak in a generation.”

The current avian influenza H5N2 outbreak in the U.S.has killed more than 48 million birds in 15 states since first detected on Dec. 19 2014.

No cases have been reported in New York or in any state along the East Coast. Iowa has been hit the hardest, with more than 31.7 million birds dead. The bird flu has spread rapidly. In April, there were fewer than 1 million cases reported.

This is one of the worst cases of bird flu the country has ever seen, Schumer said. In fact, many American farmers have never had to deal with such an outbreak and scientists are still researching how exactly it spreads, he said. Industry analysts predict this latest outbreak could stretch for another 18-24 months.

Right now, there is no effective vaccines for the highly pathogenic avian influenza, Schumer said. The vaccine currently available offers just 60 percent effectiveness, meaning that 4 in 10 birds will remain unprotected.

The recently proposed cuts to USDA research funding comes at the worst time, Schumer said in a press release yesterday. It will starve the agency from the funding it needs to combat avian influenza, according to the senator. The USDA research funds slashed by Congress could help pay for efforts like vaccination development against the bird flu, ‘biosecurity’ measures that help farmers reduce the spread of the deadly disease, USDA response measures, and understanding how the virus is transmitted, Schumer said.

Approximately 80 percent of birds affected by avian influenza have been egg-laying hens. Nationwide, approximately 10 percent of all egg-laying hens have been infected.

As the egg supply has fallen, the wholesale and retail prices of eggs and egg products have risen.

The average price per dozen has nearly doubled since the end of May, Schumer said. The New York Times reported that the average wholesale price for one dozen eggs in New York will range from $1.60 to $1.66, which breaks the 2014 record of $1.42. In New York City, the current average price of a dozen eggs is $4.08. In local supermarkets, the current price of a dozen eggs ranges from $2.99 to $3.89.

Restaurants and other food producers are also feeling the effects of the egg shortage. For instance, “breaker” eggs, which are sold in liquid form to restaurants and packaged-food-producers, including McDonald’s, increased by 273 percent, Schumer said. According to the New York Times,companies including Panera Bread and General Mills have said they are seeking other supplies and substitute ingredients because of the egg shortage.

For tips on protecting your backyard poultry flock see the USDA Biosecurity For Birds website. Information on how to detect signs of avian influenza in your flock can be accessed here.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.