“Congressman Collins to USDA: Ensure all options are on the table
for poultry industry in Georgia”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, Congressman Doug Collins sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking that the USDA ensure all viable options are available to state, local, and industry stakeholders to prevent the spread of bird flu if highly pathogenic avian influenza hits Georgia.
See text of letter below:
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, D.C. 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
As you know, earlier this year the United States experienced the worst animal disease outbreak in its history. The outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) led to deaths of more than 48 million birds, with confirmed cases in 21 states. While the outbreak ended with the last confirmation on June 17, 2015, there are concerns that this disease could strike the poultry industry again this fall as migratory birds begin to travel south for the winter.
The last outbreak devastated the businesses hit by the disease and cost taxpayers an estimated $950 million. The HPAI outbreak impacted not only the poultry industry or the agriculture industry in the affected states, but also state economies as a whole.
In light of the previous outbreak and the potential for a future outbreak, I am glad to see that USDA is taking proactive steps to prepare for scenarios where the disease hits again. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) recently released its “Fall 2015 HPAI Preparedness and Response Plan,” which calls for improved response capabilities and increased collaboration with states and industry.
Given the importance of the poultry industry to Georgia, I am glad to see that APHIS recognizes the necessity of coordination and collaboration with local partners. Georgia is the nation’s leading poultry producing state, and the jobs of 138,000 Georgians depend on the industry. Poultry represents almost half of Georgia’s entire agriculture sector, and all told, it is a $28 billion dollar industry in my home state.
APHIS’s work to improve preparation and response capabilities is a positive sign that USDA will be better prepared and equipped to handle a future outbreak. However, we must ensure that responses allow partners in the effort to prevent or mitigate an outbreak to act quickly and decisively to implement the response best suited to the issue at hand.
One area that APHIS, and by extension USDA, should consider further is depopulation methods, should they become necessary in the event of an outbreak. As APHIS’s own Fall Plan says, “Rapid depopulation is necessary both to control disease spread—thus safeguarding other flocks—and to spare birds from suffering death by HPAI, which can have a mortality rate of 100%.” The plan notes that APHIS preferred methods of depopulation are foaming and CO2, but also makes stipulations for the use of ventilation shutdown on a case-by-case basis.
Given the potential severity of a future outbreak, the concentration of commercial poultry flocks in Georgia—particularly in the 9th District—and the necessity for a quick response, I would like to know how you will ensure that ventilation shutdown could be utilized in a timely manner if it has to be approved on a case-by-case basis.
I would also to like to know if USDA has considered establishing ventilation shutdown as a standard depopulation method in the event of an outbreak, and if not, why not?
USDA has acknowledged ventilation shutdown as a viable method to depopulate an infected flock and has even said that “it could save the lives of thousands of birds by reducing the risk of disease spread.” Importantly, ventilation shutdown requires no specialized equipment or personnel and it can be implemented immediately if necessary. Experts agree that depopulation within 24 hours of a flock where there is an HPAI diagnosis is optimal to reduce the risk of disease spread.
While foamers have been shown to be highly effective, they also require equipment and trained personnel. The state of Georgia has a relatively high number of foamers—7 units, with another 2 units in the works—compared to its neighbors, but if an outbreak spreads rapidly it simply may not be an option to wait on a foamer being used elsewhere. Ventilation shutdown removes the necessity of waiting on equipment and additionally allows for birds to be composted within the infected chicken house, further reducing the risk for the spread of disease.
More research on new or additional methods of depopulation for HPAI-infected flocks might well be useful, but in the event of an outbreak affected parties need to be able to take prompt action with all proven methods available to prevent the spread of disease and ultimately save the lives of more birds.
Given USDA’s acknowledgement of ventilation shutdown as a useful method of depopulating infected flocks, I ask that you consider updating the Fall 2015 Plan to include ventilation shutdown as an accepted standard method for depopulation, should such measures become necessary. I believe this step will provide states and industry with greater flexibility to react in a timely manner to an outbreak, could protect flocks by preventing the spread of disease, and could help to mitigate economic damages.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (202) 225-9893.
Ninth Congressional District of Georgia
Cc: The Honorable Kevin Shea
Administrator, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services
United States Department of Agriculture