Although state officials are saying that the threat from bird flu is easing for this season, a Rembrandt Enterprises farm in Renville, Minn., announced Thursday it will have to lay off 39 workers in addition to killing 2 million chickens after suffering Minnesota's single largest contamination.
Since testing positive for the H5N2 virus last week, the Renville complex has been quarantined by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, said Jonathan Spurway, Rembrandt's vice president of marketing. The quarantine order will require the operation to "depopulate the entire site in order to ensure the complete eradication and elimination of the virus, and to completely disinfect the site in advance of repopulation."
As a result, 39 full-time employees will temporarily lose their jobs, with the first round of layoffs scheduled for June 1. The Renville site has 56 total workers.
Rembrandt Enterprises, one of the nation's largest egg producers, suffered an outbreak in its Rembrandt, Iowa, facility May 1 that led to 231 layoffs. One barn housing about 250,000 hens was infected, but 5.5 million birds were killed as a result. Its third plant, in Thompson, Iowa, has not been affected.
Prominent Minnesota businessman Glen Taylor owns Rembrandt, as well as the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Star Tribune.
The facility "has every expectation" of restarting its operation, Spurway said, but is unable to predict exactly when. After the virus-exposed birds are removed, the site must be thoroughly cleaned and monitored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, remaining virus-free for at least 21 days before starting over.
Meanwhile, the state has notched six straight days without a new bird flu case. And though state officials aren't ready to say the outbreak is over, they're beginning to stand down and focus on helping the industry to recover.
The first case in the Midwest was confirmed in March at a Minnesota turkey farm, and the virus then spread to 88 farms in more than 20 counties in the top turkey-producing state. But new cases have fallen off sharply, and the focus is turning toward getting farms back into production.
Scientists believed the flu's spread would slow as the weather warmed but are worried it will return in the fall.
The fatal disease also remains a threat, despite the respite of cases in Minnesota. Iowa, the chief egg producer in the U.S., has reported several new probable cases this week, raising the number of reported outbreaks to 62. Two Iowa landfills have been approved to dispose of some of the millions of chicken, turkey and duck carcasses piling up.
The USDA says confirmed outbreaks have claimed nearly 40 million birds in 15 states.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.