poligraph-falseFor some Minnesota poultry farmers this year’s massive avian flu outbreak is  the worst they’ve ever seen.

Nearly 3.8 million birds have died from the virus or were killed to prevent it from spreading. It’s hit the state’s $800 million turkey farming industry the hardest.

In the midst of the crisis, legislators have discussed emergency funding to help poultry farmers deal with the outbreak, and have made a point to promote consumption of Minnesota turkeys.

But one DFL legislator took to the House floor to give a bizarre speech about why he’s worried about the risk of humans getting avian flu.

Rep. Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina said that after eating turkey over the weekend “he was all flu-ed out” and referred to eating turkeys as “possible poison,” saying that there has been transference of avian flu to humans in the past.

Erhardt’s statements imply people can get avian flu from eating poultry, and that’s not true.

The Evidence

So far, no humans have been infected with this particular strain of avian flu, technically known as H5N2.

That said, people in other countries have been infected with other strains of the disease in the past.

Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider the risk low, that’s why some poultry workers who are having direct, prolonged contact with the sick birds are taking Tamiflu to prevent against getting the virus.

“It’s not a public health risk, it is a potential occupational risk,” said State Public Health Veterinarian Joni Scheftel.

Scheftel said the state has followed 250 people who have had contact with sick birds and tested 13 of them who were displaying respiratory infection symptoms. None tested positive for the virus.

Scheftel said more importantly, eating poultry is not a health risk as Erhardt implied in his floor speech.

“There is actually evidence that it isn’t transmitted through food,” she said.

Scheftel said that in other parts of the world where people have become sick with other strains of avian flu, it’s sometimes one person in a household who is preparing a sick bird to be cooked and eaten. But in no cases has anyone who has eaten the bird become sick, too.

For his part, Erhardt didn’t respond to PoliGraph’s inquiry about his sourcing.

But in a press statement, he apologized for “making light of a serious issue” and said that after speaking with officials from the Minnesota Department of Health, he is “confident in their work, and assessment that consuming turkey is safe for Minnesotans.”

The Verdict

The bottom line: Erhardt’s floor statements are false because you can’t get avian flu from eating turkey. And so far, no human has been infected with this strain of avian flu even after direct contact.



Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt told reporters Wednesday that a compromise on taxes with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate Democrats would require a cut of at least $1.1 billion.

That’s less than the $2 billion cut passed by House Republicans but significantly more than Democrats have proposed.

Daudt said an overall budget agreement with Dayton and Senate Democrats has to be “probably somewhere in the middle,” and he warned that if they don’t meet him halfway, “we’re probably going to be here past the end of session.”

“Are we going to spend it all or are we going to tell Minnesotans that we’re not going to collect too much money from them?” Daudt said. “That’s the question that we have to come to some agreement on in the next two weeks.”

Dayton and Senate Democrats are proposing a much smaller tax cut and higher spending on health and human services programs, higher education, schools and early childhood education than House Republicans.

Dayton said he didn’t want to talk specific budget numbers with reporters, but he again suggested his top priority is spending more money on schools, clean water and other programs.

“Ask people in Minnesota do you want $250 for your family, $20 a month for two years, or do you want safe, clean drinking water? I think people will opt for the latter,” he said.

Dayton is scheduled to meet with Daudt and other Republicans Thursday. He said he’s not worried about reaching a deal yet because lawmakers have traditionally waited until the last second to compromise. But he said he’s worried that neither side is ready to cut a deal.

“I’m concerned because of the distance that we’re apart and wondering whether the will is there to get it resolved,” he said.

Daudt and DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk are scheduled to join Dayton at Saturday’s fishing opener. The three of them will be together in Dayton’s boat on Lake Vermilion.

So they could cut a deal on the boat or cut bait on negotiations.

To avoid a special session they have to pass a budget before the constitutional deadline to adjourn on May 18.

As legislators hash out the final details of a transportation funding plan, some regional chambers of commerce are asking legislative leaders to approve a revenue increase to fund road and bridge construction.

“Investment in transportation is critical to Minnesota’s competitiveness, so we also support an increase in revenue that allows us to properly plan and build a transportation system that will ensure regional competitiveness, vitality and economic growth in our state,” wrote officials from six regional chambers of commerce.

The letter doesn’t call directly for a gas tax increase backed by Gov. Mark Dayton and DFLers to pay for projects over the next 10 years.

But the views expressed in the letter are a nuanced departure from a view held for months by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which has lobbied against a new gas tax.

The chamber suggested early in the debate that transportation investments come from the state’s general fund or from what amounts to a property tax increase on property owners who benefit most from new transportation projects.

Minnesota Chamber of Commerce transportation policy director Bentley Graves said he doesn’t think the regional chamber groups have departed from the state group’s policy.

“I would say it’s not all that different from our view,” Graves said. “We ought to have a substantial transportation bill that includes new revenue.”

While the Dayton administration argues that the current gas tax isn’t keeping up with road construction costs because people are buying less gas, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has said that the projected $6 billion in new revenue needed by the state is overstated by millions.

A spokesman for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce was not immediately available for comment on the letter.

The letter comes at a critical time in negotiations. The House and Senate versions of the bill are far apart, with the Republican-controlled House relying on existing revenue sources to pay for roads and bridges as part of a $7 billion funding proposal and the Senate version including a minimum 16 cent increase in the gas tax as part of a more than $10 billion proposal that includes funding for transit.

The letter’s signatories include regional chambers from the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota, including the St. Paul and Minneapolis chambers of commerce, as well as the Mankato, Duluth and Marshall chambers of commerce.

The New Ulm Chamber of Commerce signed the letter after it was sent to House and Senate leaders on May 5.

You can read the letter here: