Michigan’s Proactive Bird Flu Response Stirs COVID-Era Concerns Among Dairy Farmers

Michigan’s nation-leading efforts to stop the spread of bird flu are sparking concerns among some dairy farmers, who fear the added costs and restrictions will harm their livelihoods and rural communities.

The government’s measures, which include tracking who comes and goes from farms, are rekindling unwanted memories of the COVID-19 pandemic in small towns across central Michigan. Some dairy farmers are resisting the state’s response, drawing parallels to the frustrations they experienced during the earlier health crisis.

Michigan has two of the four known cases of bird flu in humans, all of them dairy workers, since the world’s first case in U.S. cattle was confirmed in late March. The state has tested more people than any of the 12 states with confirmed cases in cows, according to a Reuters survey of state health departments.

Public health experts worry that the bird flu has the potential to turn into another pandemic, just a few years after COVID-19. As these concerns mount, the acceptance and success or failure of Michigan’s proactive approach is being closely watched by other states seeking a roadmap beyond the federal containment recommendations.

However, more than a dozen interviews with Michigan producers, state health officials, researchers, and industry groups, along with preliminary data, show limited dairy farmer participation in efforts to stem and study the virus. In some cases, calls from local health officials go unanswered, money for dairy farm research is left unclaimed, and workers still milk cows without extra protective gear.

Dairy farmer Brian DeMann from Martin, Michigan, said the outbreak and the state’s response evoke memories of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 37-year-old believes Michigan’s rules to contain bird flu would be more widely accepted if they were presented as recommendations rather than requirements.

This spring, many U.S. dairy owners did not heed federal recommendations to offer more protective equipment to employees, according to farmers and workers. DeMann said he did not invest in new protective gear, such as masks, for his workers because it is unclear how the virus is spreading.

The reluctance of some dairy farmers to fully engage with Michigan’s proactive approach highlights the challenges in containing the bird flu outbreak, as the state’s efforts are met with COVID-era skepticism and concerns about the impact on rural livelihoods.

Michigan’s Proactive Bird Flu Response Stirs COVID-Era Concerns Among Dairy Farmers
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