LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Wednesday, Governor Josh Shapiro visited Silver Valley Farm in East Earl to discuss his budget proposals for agriculture, specifically, fighting the Hi-Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) crisis.
Pennsylvania’s $132 billion agriculture industry and its contributors, like ninth-generation farmer Jim Shirk, play an integral role in U.S. food production.
“These are the people that provide local foods for across the eastern United States,” said Shirk.
According to agriculture officials, the HPAI crisis poses a serious threat to the industry, making it more difficult for farmers like Shirk.
“Every chicken coop, field, backyard or poultry house is at risk,” said Lisa Graybeal, the Department of Agriculture’s Deputy Secretary for Animal Health and Food Safety. “In the last 30 days, here in Pennsylvania, four commercial flocks, 20 backyard flocks and 133,550 birds have been affected,” she added.
Since the outbreak in April 2022, 4,650,840 birds have been lost in Pennsylvania alone and a total of 58.6 million nationwide.
“Hi-Path Avian Influenza is one of the largest animal public health emergencies in American history,” said Gov. Shapiro. “This is hurting farmers, so we’re doing everything we can to get money back in their pockets when they lose their flock,” he added.
In his budget, Shapiro proposes an additional $25 million to the $25 million already available for farmers to recoup their losses. $8.2 million of the existing fund has been used.
“8.2 million of the initial 25 million that my predecessor and Senator Martin set aside has already been driven out to farms. We want to exhaust that fund and then have more dollars come in so that we know those dollars are making it out to farmers,” said Shapiro, who also proposed another $6 million to reimburse farmers for the supplies they need to get their birds tested by certified poultry techs.
He says it’s a bipartisan issue that impacts everyone.
“The Hi-Path Avian influenza doesn’t really care what party you’re from. This is about developing common sense solutions to a pressing problem that threatens the livelihoods of the good people of Pennsylvania,” said Shapiro.
“Think about the whole food production process- where do the eggs go once they leave here? We have major employers in Pennsylvania that work in the egg industry. If that supply chain is disrupted, it has a real impact on jobs,” said Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Officials say HPAI is a risk to birds and that poultry and eggs are safe for human consumption. It is, however, a risk to the poultry industry and the 26,000 jobs it provides in Pennsylvania.
“Let me be clear, this virus outbreak is a risk to birds, period. Poultry and eggs are safe to eat. Human health is not at risk,” said Graybeal. “Out of abundance of caution, those who are working directly with potentially infected birds are protected and their health is monitored carefully,” she added.
For more information on the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Recovery Reimbursement Grant, you can find it here, or by calling. (717) 772-2852.