US - The Northwest Food Processors Association gathered experts on biosecurity earlier in August to strengthen biosecurity, and to learn from the recent epidemic that devastated egg producers in the Midwest.
What happened there could happen here, and you'll never be fully prepared for it. That was the message to more than 50 egg and poultry industry leaders and regulators who gathered in Puyallup, Washington to discuss issues surrounding the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus.
The meeting was organised by the Northwest Food Processors Association (NWFPA), which includes several egg and poultry producer members.
The NWFPA gathered a panel of experts to inform and help prepare the industry for what could be a devastating blow to the industry in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and continue a widespread effect on the US food supply.
The HPAI virus is carried primarily by wild geese and ducks, which are largely unaffected by the disease, and can be spread to domestic poultry during migratory seasons. A particular strain of avian influenza, H5N2, was confirmed in a backyard chicken flock in Washington State.
The HPAI epidemic in the Midwest a few months ago resulted in the destruction of 50 million chickens and turkeys.
Several poultry researchers and veterinarians participated in the summit, and the message they brought with them was that producers in the Midwest were not prepared for an avian flu outbreak.
However, the disease can overtake hundreds of thousands of chickens on a single egg farm in a matter of hours; an entire flock can be dead in about 10 days.
"What the Midwest experience showed us vividly was that an avian flu outbreak on a commercial poultry farm is a challenging, and potentially nightmarish experience," said Greg Satrum, vice president of Willamette Egg Farms in Canby, Oregon.
"It's in our best interest as an industry to work collaboratively with other poultry farms and state authorities to keep the virus out of production facilities."
Biosecurity becomes paramount
Biosecurity practices become critical for containment. This includes practices as basic as disinfecting shoes and clothing so as not to carry contaminants from one poultry house to another, sanitising trucks, vehicles and equipment, and planning for the safe disposal of dead poultry.
Landfills were used in the Midwest, in addition to composting, burial and incineration.
A recent outbreak in California resulted in a loss of 200,000 chickens and 60,000 turkeys. Fortunately, the state's agricultural department had already worked closely with farmers to develop containment plans, so that trucks carrying dead flocks to landfills or incinerators could avoid routes that passed by other egg and poultry producers.
Both the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) have preventive and response plans in place in case of a HPAI outbreak.
As one of the panellists stated: "Have a worst case scenario plan in place, and test it. Be sure to network with industry, government and business partners. No one is in this alone."
NWFPA and preparedness facilitation
The NWFPA, in hosting this avian flu summit, is aiming to help facilitate open communication and collaboration with its members and industry partners.
As a non-governmental entity working on these problems, they have the ability to consistently foster cooperation across the boundaries of industry and regulatory agencies.
"The NWFPA's outreach on this issue is the type of thing they do best," said Mr Satrum.
"This informational event plus ongoing communication will help us get those relationships and planning in place to coordinate efforts with other farms, ODA, WSDA, USDA and more.
"This will enable us to respond in a way that helps curtail the spread of an outbreak, and hopefully helps us prevent one altogether through good biosecurity."
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