Avian flu taking its toll in Renville, Minnesota

RENVILLE -- Residents in the community of Renville are beginning to see first-hand the toll that the avian influenza epidemic is taking. United States Department of Agriculture workers--many in full body suits--on Wednesday began depopulating the...

A worker disinfects a truck before it leaves the Rembrandt Enterprises site east of Renville. The complex is under quarantine as state and federal officials oversee the process to euthanize and compost 2 million egg-laying hens affected by the highly pathogenic avian influenza epidemic. Forum News Service/Tom Cherveny



RENVILLE -- Residents in the community of Renville are beginning to see first-hand the toll that the avian influenza epidemic is taking.

United States Department of Agriculture workers--many in full body suits--on Wednesday began depopulating the Rembrandt Enterprises barns holding 2 million egg-laying hens on the east side of Renville.

Also the company announced it is temporarily laying off employees June 1.


Testing had confirmed that the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N2 struck the egg-laying facility, the largest poultry operation in Minnesota to be affected by the disease to date.

Rembrandt officials told Renville City Council members during an emergency meeting earlier this week  that they first began to see signs that birds were becoming ill on May 12. Within days, thousands of birds were dying and the infection had spread beyond the barn holding the birds first identified as ill.

City Council members held the special meeting to provide an emergency order allowing the company to compost the birds on a site north of the barns.

Renville County closed off a portion of County Road 21 near the 16-barn complex for biosecurity reasons.

Rembrandt Enterprises then announced Thursday that it will be laying off 39 of its employees in Renville on or about June 1. The layoff is planned to be temporary.

The company told city officials that it intends to repopulate the barns and resume production as soon as possible, although that date could be months away. It is also reducing the economic impact by reassigning some workers to keep them on the payroll as the cleanup work gets underway.

Renville Mayor Janette Wertish said the economic impact will be felt in the community, especially once the employee layoffs begin. "I'm sure this is going to be a significant loss to us,'' she said.

Many of the employees live in the community, and even those who live out of town are regular customers for businesses in the community. "Lots of them come into lunch every day, buy gas and food, support the local businesses,'' Wertish said.


She is concerned about the hardships that workers affected by the shutdown will face. She's already heard of one family that is expecting a new baby and concerned about the loss of health insurance if the shutdown persists for a long time.

There are other economic impacts certain to ripple through the community and the area's economy. United Mills in Renville supplies feed for the facility, and area farmers raise much of the corn for it. And, a variety of companies and trades people in the community and area provide services to the complex, she said.

Meanwhile, all of the Rembrandt Enterprises birds will be composted outside on property north of the egg-laying complex.

City Council members in Renville approved the action during an emergency meeting with officials with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Renville County, and representatives of Rembrandt Enterprises

Carl Denkinger, Minnesota Board of Animal Health, informed city officials that composting was determined to be the "only option available.''

Burying the birds would risk contaminating groundwater, and transporting them to another site for incineration creates biosecurity concerns. Rendering plants and landfills do not accept infected birds.

He also pointed out that composting is an effective and safe means to destroy the pathogens.

Department of Agriculture officials told city officials that composting requires 28 days. It will occur in two 14-day cycles. After the first 14 days, the piles are aerated by being rolled over and allowed to sit for another 14 days.


The composting process creates a temperature of 130 degrees, which kills pathogens and speeds the decomposition.

The Board of Animal Health informed city officials that if done correctly, the process should reduce odors. "Most of the odor is gone within 48 to 72 hours,'' according to information provided the city.

Rembrandt Enterprises is halfway through the composting process at its Rembrandt, Iowa, site where 5.5 million egg-laying hens were affected. To date, there has not been one complaint from neighbors regarding flies or odor, according to the company.

The process in Renville will involve placing the birds on a layer of lime. Manure, wood chips, ground corn stalks and other carbon sources will be mixed with the bodies.

Once completed, the decayed material is applied to fields as fertilizer.

The USDA and state of Minnesota will oversee the process and conduct daily testing. At the city's request, the soil at the site will also be tested and monitored for pathogens.




The community of Renville will begin to feel the economic implications of the avian influenza epidemic as 39-workers at Rembrandt Enterprises receive layoff notices. Forum News Service/Tom Cherveny

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