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US Agriculture Officials Meet for Avian Flu Conference

30 July 2015

US - Top agriculture officials in the US met in Iowa recently for a conference on this year's highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreaks.

The outbreaks claimed the lives of over 48 million birds.

The US' Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, spoke at the summit about the effects of the outbreaks, and said it was important to be prepared in case the disease re-emerges in the autumn.

Speaking about the resources the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had used in the operation against bird flu, Mr Vilsack said: "We have expended, or likely will expend in excess of $700 million in the form of indemnification payments to producers as well as the reasonable cost of disinfection and clean-up."

He said that the USDA had used contractors to sources 3,000 additional people to work with nearly 300 Animal and Plant Health Information Service (APHIS) workers. The cost is expected to rise in the event of a re-emergence of the disease.

The organisation has also been evaluating the causes of the outbreaks and its response by talking to veterinarians and industry officials.

"We have not had a new incident since mid-June, but the reality is that we need to plan for the worst and hope for the best," Mr Vilsack said.

"And so I tasked a team at USDA over the course of the last several weeks to begin the process of putting together a task force for purposes of planning for a worst-case scenario in the fall, so that we would be prepared to deal with a re-emergence in the 21 states that have been impacted and affected by avian influenza and potentially trying to deal with a re-emergence of this in new states as well."

The secretary said that in future, the 'command structure' for responding to such disasters could be re-organised to allow timely provision of accurate information to producers.

"I think it will be helpful for us in the future to have an incident command structure and system of communication that starts with making sure that state, local, and federal officials are in essentially the same room talking about the same thing at the same time," he said.

"It would be helpful if we could have essentially the same people talking to the producers over a long period of time instead of the rotation that occurred in this last go round."

Mr Vilsack touched on the concerns of some animal rights organisations about the most humane way to depopulate infected flocks. Recent comments by a speaker at a Senate committee meeting on the topic caused some controversy, when it was suggested that it might be more humane to cull the birds by switching off ventilation fans, rather than using current methods of carbon dioxide gas or foam.

He said that such a tragedy "does spur creativity and innovation, so we are open to suggestions and we will be working with the industry to try to figure out what is indeed the quickest, most efficient and most humane way of dealing with this, should it re-emerge."

Mr Vilsack mentioned that after depopulation it was important to be able to dispose of the dead birds. The USDA is looking at how to ensure there are enough disposal sites available.

He added that he hoped to have most of the affected facilities up and running again soon, but emphasised the importance of continued biosecurity and the length of time to restocking for prevention of re-emergence.

Mr Vilsack also spoke about payouts to producers affected by the avian flu outbreaks. There have been some concerns about the fairness of the payouts for the producers and the industry, and accounting for the length of time it takes to re-stock businesses.

He said: "Again, we are going to do our level best and we appreciate and at this point we anticipate about $190 million of indemnification payments to be made, about $183 million has already gone out the door. So I think we have done a pretty good job of getting the resources out but I think we can do an even better job of making sure people understand what this system is."

He added that having a disaster plan for poultry, similar to what already exists in livestock, could end up cheaper for the taxpayer in future and therefore the budget should be looked at again.

Mr Vilsack concluded on an appreciative note for American farmers, saying that more needed to be done to ensure the rest of the country understood the importance of the industry, thus justifying the money spent on agriculture.

Further Reading

Visit our bird flu pages by clicking here.

ThePoultrySite News Desk

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