Sanderson addresses role of migratory birds in AI spread

by Joel Crews
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LAUREL, Miss. – After animal health officials recently confirmed cases of avian influenza (AI) in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky, Sanderson Farms Inc. issued a statement about how the company’s response to AI outbreaks has evolved now that an outbreak has occurred for four consecutive years. Facility-specific security, transparency and communication between state and federal officials are keys to minimizing the impact, according to the poultry company.

Sanderson points out the latest discoveries in the US have had trade implications, as exports have been halted to Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan after the latest outbreak. It also pointed out that the strain discovered in Tennessee is not a threat to humans, and most animal health officials believe the public is confident that the US strain is not endangering humans.

Meanwhile, Phil Stayer, DVM, corporate veterinarian with Sanderson says it is complying with and exceeding eradication programs across state lines.

“Within every state that we operate, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina, there are
both state and federal plans in place in the event of a reported infection,” according to Stayer. “All state plans must meet the federal minimum standard; however, Sanderson Farms goes well above and beyond the federal minimum standard.”

More stringent biosecurity programs have been adopted by most companies to ensure their facilities are minimizing risks, but controlling incoming threats are only part of the equation, according to Stayer. 

“Previously, we thought the virus was primarily spread by coming up the driveway, transmitted from farm-to-farm by service vehicles and on equipment. Now, we realize it’s spread as waterfowl fly overhead, meaning it can easily be picked up by simply walking across the yard through duck droppings,” Stayer said. “This means we have had to change our entire mindset from farm-by-farm, to house-by-house. All of which means much tighter security.”

Evidence of infection within a flock isn’t always definitive when the vector is linked to migratory birds, as sickness and death isn’t a given in all types of fowl, which requires even more vigilance.

“Waterfowl like geese and ducks don’t necessarily get sick and can carry the virus for longer periods of time and from place to place as they migrate,” according to Kenneth Angel, DVM, with USDA’s Veterinary Services for Louisiana and Mississippi.

“We know that waterfowl are the main carriers of the virus, so that is where we are concentrating our efforts,” Angel said. “We also know the virus does not survive well in hot temperatures, which accounts for why we do not see large outbreaks during the summer months in the southern portion of the US.”

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