Bird flu hotline open

USDA has set up a toll-free number for poultry producers to report any suspicious deaths or illnesses in their flocks that could be the deadly H5N1 virus, or "bird flu." US officials say they expect the virus to first arrive in North America via migratory wild birds, but that commercial flocks could also be vulnerable. While several European and Asian countries are struggling to contain the disease among wild and domestic birds, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said he believes the US poultry industry is much better positioned to control bird flu.

"There are two reasons why I can confidently make this statement," Johanns said. "One, our industry is very consolidated. In many of the countries struggling with the virus, chickens are commonly raised in yards and even inside houses. In the United States, chickens, turkeys and eggs produced for human consumption are typically raised in very controlled environments."

He also said the US industry has been practicing biosecurity measures for decades, and expects better cooperation from American producers than Asian governments have so far gotten.

"Our producers have demonstrated that they will call us at the first sign of sick birds knowing that with high path strains of bird flu we reimburse them for the birds that we destroy," he said.

The toll free number for reporting a suspected outbreak of bird flu is 1-866-536-7593.