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USDA to Compensate Dairy Farmers Over Bovine Influenza-H5N1 Losses

07/01/2024

On June 27th the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that compensation would be extended to eligible dairy farmers with herds infected by bovine influenza-H5N1.  Funds will be available from the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAPE).  This concession was made possible by an alteration in the Rule relating to ELAPE.

 

Eligibility will be based on a confirmed diagnosis made by the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratory. Additional requirements will comprise:

 

  • Losses from milk production extending from 14 days prior to sample collection with a positive result for 120 subsequent days.

 

  • Losses from cows maintained for commercial milk production.

 

  • Eligible cows should have been in lactation prior to the positive diagnosis.

 

In commenting on the compensation program Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stated, “When something unexpected like H5N1 threatens the economic viability of producers we are committed to finding ways where we have the authority to do so, to revisit existing program polices and provide the financial support needed to help producers recover and sustain production.”

 

To date close to 130 herds in twelve states have been diagnosed with bovine influenza-H5N1.  The introduction of the ELAPE compensation program will most certainly reveal additional cases since there is now an incentive for farmers to undertake diagnostic procedures.

 

The question arises as to why ELAPE funding is extended to dairy farmers impacted by bovine influenza-H5N1 although previously there was no direct support for egg producers confronted with coryza in 2023 or hog famers suffering losses from PRRS. It is also questioned whether USDA has established a precedent to compensate for exposure to a pathogen in the absence of accepted principles of biosecurity? USDA should clearly define and articulate their policy on compensation in the event of emergence of an erosive disease in a given livestock segment. The USDA also owes stakeholders including taxpayers the justification for payments under ELAPE and possible limits on duration of compensation especially if the infection becomes  (or is already) endemic.

 

This commentator does not begrudge the compensation paid to owners of affected dairy herds but a clear statement of policy and future action on disease-related compensation should be forthcoming. This will dispel any hint of partiality by the USDA or the Secretary given his tenure as president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council during 2017 through 2021, that could be interpreted as favoring a specific sector of livestock production