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$330 million approved for poultry industry's worst-ever bird flu outbreak

CHICAGO, May 5 (Reuters) - The U.S. government will tap an additional $330 million in emergency funds to cover farmer claims related to the fast-spreading bird flu outbreak and other efforts to contain the disease, U.S. Agriculture Department sou...

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The American poultry industry has been struggling with the worst-ever U.S. outbreak of highly pathogenic avian flu, which has led to more than 21.6 million birds in 114 mostly commercial operations being killed so far. Illustration

CHICAGO, May 5 (Reuters) - The U.S. government will tap an additional $330 million in emergency funds to cover farmer claims related to the fast-spreading bird flu outbreak and other efforts to contain the disease, U.S. Agriculture Department sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

The money comes after U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requested that the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) grant the agency's bid to tap emergency funds.

The additional funds, added to the $84.5 million previously set aside by USDA for the outbreak, bring the federal costs so far to at least $414.5 million. That amount is one of the largest sums the federal government has spent on a livestock disease outbreak, according to government data.

The American poultry industry has been struggling with the worst-ever U.S. outbreak of highly pathogenic avian flu, which has led to more than 21.6 million birds in 114 mostly commercial operations being killed so far.

The additional funds will be used to pay for indemnity claims filed by poultry farmers whose flocks have been infected by the highly pathogenic H5 virus and other issues related to the outbreak, the sources told Reuters.

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The approval by OMB was partly procedural; it is required by federal law to review and approve the distribution or allocation of federal spending, such as the funds that are expected to be distributed to farmers impacted by the outbreak, USDA told Reuters.

"We are confident that support for producers will continue to be adequately funded as needed," according to a statement from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Last week, U.S. Senate and House Agriculture Committee leadership called for additional emergency financial assistance to be made available to USDA, to cover the increasing number of indemnity claims that are expected to be filed by poultry farmers affected by the outbreak.

Federal law gives APHIS authority to work with state agencies to contain and eradicate the highly pathogenic avian influenza, and "pay up to 100 percent of the expenses of purchase, destruction and disposition of animals and materials required to be destroyed because of being contaminated by or exposed to the disease," according to the agency.

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By P.J. Huffstutter

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