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Health Issues Facing the US Turkey Industry

07 March 2008

Published in Poultry Health Report, August/Winter 2007, a National Institute for Animal Agriculture Publication. The lack of approved efficacious drugs continues to be a top challenge facing the U.S. turkey industry.

That was a key point delivered by Dr. Charles Corsiglia, Foster Farms, Fresno, Calif., when he spoke at the annual meeting of the United States Animal Health Association (USAHA) in October.

Dr. Corsiglia’s presentation centered on information gleaned from a poll of turkey industry veterinarians regarding the health status and issues facing the industry between August 2006 and August 2007. The poll was conducted by Dr. Steven Corsiglia, Alpharma Animal Health, West Jefferson, N.C.; Dr. Mark Blakley, Carroll’s Turkeys, Warsaw, N.C.; and Dr. Dave Mills, Jennie-O Turkey Store Company, Willmar, Minn.

“The survey shows that the turkey industry supports the scientific examination of the evidence in the cases against the use of antibiotics in agriculture, and supports the continued judicious use of antibiotics in animal agriculture,” Dr. Corsiglia stated.

That said, the turkey veterinarians participating in the poll listed the lack of approved, efficacious drugs as their No. 1 issue facing the industy.

“For example, the withdrawal of the new application for drug approval (NADA) for enrofloxacin use in poultry in 2005 leaves the industry with only tetracycline and penicillin as available therapeutics, and neither of these are adequate against colibacillosis or fowl cholera, the second-rated and ninth-rated disease concerns, respectively, in the poll,” Dr. Corsiglia explained.

Survey participants ranked blackhead, also known as histomoniasis, No. 22. This disease, Dr. Corsiglia noted, has no efficacious drug approved for use in turkeys. A total of 68 reported cases of blackhead were reported between August 2006 and August 2007. Losses to blackhead have been severe and can be devastating in affected individual flocks. Sporadic cases are occurring in North America.

“Dimetridazole was extremely efficacious and previously approved for use in turkeys for the prevention and treatment of blackhead, but it was banned in 1987,” Dr. Corsiglia told the group. “The lack of any legal treatment for histomoniasis is of concern, especially in the case of valuable turkey breeder candidate flocks. It seems unconscionable that the industry is unable to prevent the suffering and death in flocks affected by histomoniasis when effective, yet unapproved, treatments exist.”

Dr. Corsiglia said the authors of the report urge the FDA consider allowing limited use of such products in valuable breeder stock.

The poll ranked late mortality as No. 3 and leg problems as No. 4 among the turkey industry’s top concerns. Late mortality is defined as mortality in excess of 1.5 percent per week in toms 17 weeks and older. Mortality was not diagnosed to a specific disease or cause.

Excess cumulative mortality of 5 to 10 percent in toms prior to slaughter has been reported. Dr. Corsiglia said late mortality may be associated with physiologic or biomechanical deficiencies following early rapid growth in heavy toms achieving genetic potential, aggressive behavior noted in mature toms, cannibalism, leg problems and/or hypertension.

The survey revealed that leg problems, such as spiral fractures of the tibia or femur, are a common complaint.

Although the survey average decreased from 3.5 to 3.1 and moved from No. 3 to No. 5, survey results show that cellulitis remains a major disease issue across all geographic regions. Dr. Corsiglia shared that cellulitis is most commonly seen in, but not limited to, commercial male turkeys nearing market age, and the prevalence and severity of cellulitis continues to increase.

According to the poll, veterinarians indicate that the occurrence of cellulitis is now confirmed at younger ages and in both toms and hens.

Individuals participating in the poll ranked heat stress at No. 6 and poultry enteritis of unknown etiologies at No. 7.

Dr. Corsiglia shared that highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) continues to infect poultry in Southeast Asia with sporadic introductions in Europe and Africa. He said that poultry in the U.S. have continued to remain negative for H5N1. The concern does exist, however, that the virus could spread to the U.S. through the illegal transport of infected birds or migration of infected wild birds.

The National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) Commercial Poultry H5/H7 LPAI surveillance program, Dr. Corsiglia noted, provides for 100 percent indemnity for commercial plan participants. In many geographic areas where flock isolation is practical, he said controlled marketing may be the preferred method of eradication since consumption of meat from LPAI flocks does not pose a risk to the public health. If flock destruction is necessary in the eradication of H5/H7 LPAI, then 100 percent indemnity is appropriate, as it is already provided for in the eradication of HPAI.

Dr. Corsiglia called federal regulations governing the use of autogenous veterinary biologicals “antiquated” and inhibitory toward effective preventive applications in the poultry industry. He said main issues include the narrow time limits on the use of a microbiological isolate and the restrictions requiring use only in the herd of origin. As such, the turkey industry urges the Veterinary Services-Center for Veterinary Biologics to revise these regulations in favor of a more effective and user-friendly approach.

The Top 10 Disease Issues in Turkey health survey (September 2007) according to U.S. veterinarians:

Issue Score Average (1-5)
Lack of approved, efficacious drugs                     4.7
Colibacillosis 3.4
Late Mortality 3.4
Leg Problems 3.3
Cellulitis 3.1
Heat stress 3.1
Poult Enteritis of unknown etiologies 3.0
Bordetella avium 2.7
Cholera 2.7
Breast Blisters and Breast Buttons 2.7


February 2008



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