US government departments are to spend around $200m in an attempt to stop avian flu from spreading across the country’s dairy farm network.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said on Friday (10 May) it will make $98m available while the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is to provide $101m to help contain the spread of the virus, officially called H5N1.

The virus, which spread to North America in 2021, has wreaked havoc on poultry populations and led to the suspension of meat exports from certain states.

In early April, a Texas facility belonging to egg-producing heavyweight Cal-Maine Foods ceased production temporarily following the detection of the flu. Some 1.6m laying hens and 337,000 pullets were culled as a result.

The virus has been detected among dairy cattle in nine states since late March and scientists believe the outbreak is more widespread than that but some experts are sceptical that the infection will become widespread in cattle.

However, amid post-Covid fears that the virus could spread to humans, the US government is determined to show it is taking action.

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The USDA’s $98m is to provide up to $28,000 per dairy farm for efforts to support increased biosecurity activities which it hopes will contain the spread of the virus while HHS said it would provide its $101m through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect public health and the nation’s food supply.

The HHS money includes $34m through the CDC for testing efforts and supporting public health labs, $8m for vaccines, and $3m for wastewater surveillance. The FDA will also provide $8m to ensure the safety of the commercial milk supply.

In a statement, the USDA said the money, and the steps it will fund, “will further equip producers with tools they can use to keep their affected herds and workers healthy and reduce risk of the virus spreading to additional herds”.

It added: “The US government is addressing this situation with urgency and through a whole-of-government approach. USDA is working closely with federal partners at FDA, which has the primary responsibility for the safety of milk and dairy products, by assisting with conducting lab testing at USDA labs. USDA is also working closely with federal partners at CDC, which has the primary responsibility for public health, by encouraging producer and industry cooperation with public health officials to get vital information necessary to assess the level of risk to human health.”