EXTENSIVE SAFEGUARDS, MONITORING IN PLACE FOR BIRD FLU
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A recent article in The Charlotte Observer noted that North Carolina's poultry industry could take as much as a $1.7 billion hit if the deadliest strain of highly pathogenic bird flu arrives in the U.S. Although the article focused on the Tar Heel State, its conclusions could apply to any state where poultry are raised.
Michael Martin of the N.C. State University College of Veterinary Medicine was quoted in the Observer article regarding the potential industry-wide fallout of a U.S. confirmation of deadly bird flu. Martin predicts there's "going to be an economic crunch because no matter what you tell people, they're going to be concerned your poultry product will be affected."
The Observer article correctly noted that U.S. poultry producers have dramatically increased testing of their flocks for highly pathogenic avian influenza, also known as HPAI. It also highlighted Agriculture Department advice to consumers to always cook chicken to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any virus.
Many folks have already heard warnings about the importance of cooking chicken properly. But they also may be aware of news reports regarding the spread of this disease from South Asia into Europe and Africa.
This underscores the importance of testing and surveillance efforts for HPAI currently underway around the country. Perhaps the most extensive efforts are taking place in Alaska, where experts believe it is probable the first HPAI-infected wild birds will arrive in North America. Officials with various federal agencies are working closely with Alaskan natives and hunters around the state to inspect live waterfowl and other birds for the disease.
In addition, commercial poultry producers nationwide are taking a variety of steps to ensure the health and safety of their flocks. Besides stepped-up levels of testing, commercial producers are well-versed in strict "all in, all out" safety procedures developed to prevent mingling of flocks.
Further, if a commercial producer suspects a problem, procedures for additional testing, quarantining and depopulating of the birds will be initiated. The federal government assists producers by providing indemnity -- full repayment for the loss of birds, plus costs associated with destroying them. Federal agencies are also working with state and local agencies to ensure their efforts are complimentary, and their communication lines are open.
It also is worth noting comments made by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns last month regarding commercial producers of free-range poultry. He complimented these producers for maintaining good communication with USDA over the years, and added he believes this cooperation will continue in the event of a disease outbreak.
Monitoring efforts underway in Alaska and the establishment of procedures for detecting and containing this disease should go a long way toward reassuring consumers about the safety of U.S. poultry products.
Anne Keller is the director of issues management for the American Farm Bureau Federation.