By Pat Kessler

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — An annual Thanksgiving tradition at the State Capitol Monday: The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association displayed a large, live turkey for Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.

Dayton announcing significant good news for the state’s number-one-in-the-nation turkey industry: Avian flu has been wiped out.

Just a year ago: Minnesota’s billion dollar turkey industry was reeling from that lethal outbreak.

But Monday: “There’s not a single incident of avian flu disease,” said Dayton.

The avian flu that hit Minnesota last winter was unusually lethal, killing 46 million poultry nationwide, and threatening Minnesota’s 450 turkey growers.

“Losing somewhere in the area of 9 million birds,” said the state’s Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, “it was the most significant loss that the turkey industry had ever experienced.”

In the wake of the flu outbreak, Minnesota’s turkey industry adopted strict bio-security measures, and lawmakers built a modern laboratory in Willmar to quickly test and monitor safety.

“Preparing to react to something like that certainly was a big part in the success that we did have in getting rid of the viruses as well as we did,” said Steve Olson, the executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. “But we’ve learned a lot.”

Minnesota’s now back to number one: The largest turkey producing state in the nation.

Forty-six million birds this year alone, accounting for 18 percent of all the turkeys on American tables, heading into the biggest turkey holiday of the year.

Nationwide, 95 percent of Americans say they will eat turkey during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays this year, according to the National Turkey Federation, including 46 million turkeys this Thanksgiving alone.

Minnesota’s extraordinary comeback from the deadly disease that killed 46 million turkeys nationwide faced a deadly threat from a nationwide flu outbreak.

Frederickson said Monday the state hasn’t had a confirmed case all year. Minnesota farmers have raised 46 million birds this year, a normal year for the industry.

Pat Kessler

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