Florida adds restrictions to dairy cows to prevent bird flu

As the federal government brings tougher regulations to cattle farms to prevent the spread of H5N1 avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, Florida has imposed its own restrictions on cattle brought into the state.

In mid-April, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services put into place an emergency rule that halted the import of cattle exposed to H5N1 and any lactating dairy cattle from other states that have suspected or confirmed cases.

The rule also requires non-lactating dairy cattle from states with suspected or confirmed cases to have a valid veterinary inspection certificate within 10 days of travel.

Cows are milked at Dakin Dairy Farms in Myakka City, Florida on Wednesday, April 29, 2020.
Cows are milked at Dakin Dairy Farms in Myakka City, Florida on Wednesday, April 29, 2020.

The virus has spread to eight states – Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Idaho, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina – among 33 dairy herds. There have been no suspected or confirmed cases in Florida.

"This emergency rule is a critical step in protecting Florida's livestock and the health of our citizens,” Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson said in a statement.

“We are committed to working collaboratively with federal, state, and industry partners to mitigate the risks posed by Bovine Associated Influenza A Syndrome and ensure the continued safety and integrity of Florida’s agriculture industry, which has a more than $180 billion annual impact and supports more than 2.5 million jobs."

USDA announces additional regulations to take effect soon

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Wednesday announced a federal order with additional regulations, effective next Monday.

The new rules will require all dairy cattle to get tested for H1N5 before moving from state to state. If a cow tests positive, the owner must provide epidemiological information and history of the animal's movement to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The rules come a day after health officials said they found remnants of the virus in samples taken from grocery store milk, but the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration say drinking pasteurized milk is still safe.

Florida currently has approximately 48 dairy farms, said Ray Hodge, executive director of United Dairy Farmers of Florida.

Most cattle in Florida is raised for beef. In 2022, Florida ranked 20th in the nation for dairy cattle with 105,000 cows. In 2024, the state ranked ninth for beef cattle production with 862,000.

More: 'Not happy cows': Florida dairy farmers expect millions in losses after Idalia

The county with the highest count of cattle is Okeechobee, with 165,000 in 2022.

This multi-state outbreak of H5N1, first reported March 25, is the first time the virus has been found in cattle. In the U.S., the virus has been found in 200 different mammals, but this April marked the first mammal to human transmission.

Ana Goñi-Lessan is the State Watchdog Reporter for USA TODAY - Florida and can be reached at AGoniLessan@tallahassee.com

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida bird flu rules restrict import of cows from affected states