STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. – As a result of recent detections in the United States of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in backyard poultry and wild birds in the Pacific Northwest, the Chinese government announced on Jan. 12 it intends to ban all imports of US poultry and egg products. Many in the US poultry industry were stunned by this unexpected move by China.

This ban was placed in response to a December detection of a highly pathogenic strain of H5N8 influenza in wild birds and in a backyard flock of guinea hens and chickens in Oregon, along with separate H5N2 HPAI detections in wild birds in California and Washington State. China’s Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and the General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) imposed the restrictions despite assurances by the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that the influenza virus has not been found in any commercial poultry flock in the US.

MOA and the AQSIQ announced in a joint statement their country was imposing nationwide restrictions on imports of processed and unprocessed US poultry and eggs, effective Jan. 8. The ban also applies to breeding stock, which includes live chicks and hatching eggs.

“There’s absolutely no justification for China to take such a drastic action,” charged Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council. “In fact, these isolated and remote incidents are hundreds if not thousands of miles away from major poultry and egg production areas. Most all of our other trading partners have taken some sort of regionalized approach and have limited their restrictions to the state or, in some cases, to the county. We would have expected China to do the same.”

From January through November last year, US exports to China – a key export market for US chicken, turkey and duck products – reached nearly $272 million.

US industry insiders responded that for China to impose a nationwide ban in response to isolated incidents of HPAI goes against international guidelines established by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). In its Terrestrial Animal Health Code, the OIE recommends that countries adopt a regionalized approach to HPAI incidents to minimize the impact on trade.

As required, APHIS notified the OIE of the Oregon detection. “USDA expects trading partners to respond to this reported detection according to the OIE’s science-based standards,” the agency said in a statement during the aftermath of the Oregon H5N8 detection.

The virus was contained to the affected premises and has not been found in commercial poultry, the statement stressed. State and federal officials have increased ongoing surveillance of commercial poultry and backyard flocks in the Pacific Northwest, APHIS added.

Commercial producers “follow strict biosecurity practices and raise their birds in controlled environments,” which lessens the possibility of an outbreak HPAI in commercial flocks, the agency noted. Poultry is safe to eat if properly handled and cooked, the agency continued.

Also worrisome is the fact that China’s nationwide restrictions could also negatively impact its own domestic poultry industry, Sumner said.

“Since the ban also includes US breeding stock, China is cutting off its industry’s main source of hatching eggs and chicks, which will curtail the industry’s ability to replenish and maintain its production,” Sumner concluded.