TUCKER, Ga. – It is mid-summer, but US Dept. of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is already thinking about preparing for the fall and a possible resurgence of avian influenza (AI), which besieged the poultry industry this past spring and early summer.

At “Avian Influenza Outbreak…Lessons Learned,” a conference held in Des Moines, Iowa, last week, Vilsack talked about the need for collaboration between the poultry industry and state and local government officials to ensure the best biosecurity possible to prepare for another round of AI. Vilsack also spoke of improving incident command structures, and the vaccination and indemnification process, in addition to improving communications among all parties, according to a press release issued by the US. Poultry & Egg Association.

“Obviously, the best biosecurity job may not be good enough,” Vilsack said in his address. “There may well be a reemergence; and if there is, we will be dealing again with the issue of depopulation.”
During his speech, Vilsack noted that 232 enterprises and operations have been hit by AI since early spring with nearly 50 million birds depopulated.

“We have expended, or likely will expend, in excess of $700 million dollars in the form of indemnification payments to producers, as well as the reasonable cost of disinfection and clean-up,” Vilsack said. ‘We expect, and anticipate, that should avian influenza reemerge in the fall, that number may obviously grow,”

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad also spoke on the impact of AI, observing that the outbreak was the worst animal disease outbreak in modern US agricultural history, with the largest economic impact and the largest number of animals affected. He said Iowa was one of the states hit hardest by the outbreak, noting that “according to USDA’s latest egg production report, Iowa egg production in June was down 44 percent from one year ago.”

In his presentation, “H5N2 Outbreak: Where Are We…Where We Are Going,” John Clifford, chief veterinary officer for USDA APHIS, said avian influenza is a global issue. He stressed the need to address issues in other parts of the world as they arise or be faced with continuing to have these types of introductions, or risk of introductions, in the US and around the world. Clifford also shared lessons learned regarding disposal and cleaning and disinfection methods as a result of the spring avian influenza outbreak, as well as discussed the results of the completed USDA epidemiology avian influenza report.

Rick Huisinga, CEO of Life-Science Innovations for Willmar Poultry Co., and J.T. Dean, COO for Center Fresh Group, were two of four participants in a “Producer Panel: Lessons Learned” discussion. Huisinga shared what Willmar Poultry learned as a result of the avian influenza outbreak, including older birds being more susceptible and delaying depopulation as being disastrous. Huisinga also discussed prevention methods that included not growing commercial toms near breeder farms, biofiltering incoming air on their high-value birds and pre-moving PCR water testing.

The conference was a collaboration of USPOULTRY, National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation, United Egg Producers, USA Poultry & Egg Export Council and the USDA.