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Rapid grant marked for avian flu preparedness

University of Minnesota researchers to create easy-to-use, nationwide system to improve disease prevention and preparedness.

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded $87,000 to the University of Minnesota, where researchers will develop a nationwide tool to improve poultry disease prevention and preparedness. The FFAR grant has been matched with funding from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, for a total investment of $183,000.

One of the largest foreign disease outbreaks in poultry was attributed to the H5N2 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in 2014-15, which resulted in the destruction of nearly 50 million birds and caused more than $3.75 billion in lost production, expenses attributed to disease control and loss of export markets, FFAR said. With an online tool, researchers have partnered to improve responses to outbreaks and help producers mitigate foreign animal diseases on farms.

The goal of this project is to expand a Minnesota state program into a national tool for farmers and poultry companies to improve disease prevention and reporting, FFAR said. This online tool would allow producers to more easily manage flocks through farm mapping and disease reporting, which researchers believe will help improve farm biosecurity.

"Farmers and producers are often the first line of defense against invasive pests and pathogens," FFAR executive director Sally Rockey said. "They are also greatly impacted by outbreaks through animal and economic losses."

The new tool will allow companies to participate, which will fill a need to coordinate information among individual farms that send animals to a central processing location, according to the announcement. The tool will also make standard reporting procedures, such as traceback and filing with the appropriate agencies, easier for producers.

The research team is being led by principal investigator Dr. Carol Cardona, professor and B.S. Pomeroy endowed chair in avian health in the department of veterinary and biomedical sciences at the University of Minnesota. Shaun Kennedy, director of Food System Institute LLC, is a collaborator on this project.

"Responding to a foreign animal disease outbreak is complicated, and the 2014-15 outbreak of HPAI taught regulators and producers of the need for coordinating on farm and external resources and personnel," Cardona said. "The online tool we have developed helps to provide real-time guidance through the newest forms and processes in easy-to-understand language for producers and farm details needed only in an emergency for first responders. This tool provides a head start for producers and first responders that will result in faster outbreak control and recovery."

Kennedy added, "Through our long-term work on food system protection at Food Systems LLC, we understand how critical it is to makes tools useful on a regular basis so that organizations utilize them and (to make them) effective when needed when events occur to mitigate the event's consequence while also ensuring the security of each organization's data. Our compliance with relevant U.S. government secure data requirements (FedRAMP) ensure that agricultural organizations, state agencies and the USDA are confident in using this new platform."

The grant was issued through the foundation's Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research program, an initiative designed to prevent and mitigate damage from emerging pests and pathogens through short-term research funding. Applicants are encouraged to form broad-based coalitions to increase research collaboration and maximize the mitigation potential of each grant.

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