International Egg Commission Talks Avian Flu and Biosecurity

GERMANY - Avian influenza (AI) was an important topic of discussion at this year’s International Egg Commission Global Leadership Conference in Berlin, where some of the biggest names in egg production gathered to discuss its prevention and control.
calendar icon 9 November 2015
clock icon 6 minute read

In light of the recent outbreaks, one day of the week-long agenda was devoted entirely to biosecurity. The Poultry Site’s Melanie Epp was there to cover the event.

Mother Nature is the ultimate bioterrorist

Dr Brian Evans, deputy director of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), says the poultry industry is facing the perfect biological storm.

“Mother Nature is the ultimate bioterrorist,” he told the crowd in Berlin, before discussing how to best manage an outbreak once it happens. “Everyone believes that their biosecurity protocols are effective, but no one knows how effective they are until they are challenged.”

This was the case for one producer, Jim Dean, Chair of United Egg Producers and president and CEO of a group of companies that involved some 30 million birds.

Mr Dean said that he thought his operations were in “extremely good shape” going into the crisis.

In March, just before the first wave struck, they had gone through a USDA government audit where one of the affected operations received a perfect biosecurity score. On April 27, that same operation broke, and in another month, Mr Dean said they lost some nine million birds.

“We thought we had the most robust biosecurity program that we could even think of,” Mr Dean said. “We thought that we were fine.”

Emergency management dependent on communication and good relationships

When it comes to emergency management, success is dependent on addressing three elements simultaneously and equally well, the biological event, the communications and the relationships, said Dr Evans.

While the biggest investments are made in addressing the biological event itself, it is equally important to address communication and relationships. The goal, said Dr Evans, is to make sure that public health and animal health professionals are speaking in a coherent way. Doing so shows alignment between the private and public sectors.

In an emergency situation, natural stresses and tensions will occur, and there’s a lot at stake, he continued. When quick and difficult decisions are made, the impact is far reaching and affects everything from the livelihood of farmers to food security to food costs for consumers.

“These are not decisions that can be taken lightly,” said Dr Evans. “It is important in these circumstances that the communication level is good because you are also establishing the basis of trust that you will have going forward in the recovery phase, hopefully, and building a better situation to prevent these things in the future.”

Andrew Joret, technical director at Noble Foods in the UK, addressed prevention through on-farm biosecurity. Ideally, he said, farms should not be located near open water sources where birds have contact with potentially infected waterfowl, nor should they be located in close proximity to one another.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Mr Joret said that farms should have a fenced perimeter with a single point of entry where vehicles can be disinfected before entering.

“There are many, many farms with no fence at all, and that's an enormous risk,” he said.

While he is sure that farm size plays a role in the spread of avian influenza, Mr Joret was not specific on just how big is too big. It is clear to him, though, that “the larger the farm, the greater the problem.”

According to Mr Joret, the movement of people presents the greatest risk of all on the farm. But contrary to what one might think, on-farm employees present less of a risk than visitors to the farm. Of those, people who move from one farm to another, for example, the service providers or engineers, present the biggest risk, he said.

When an outbreak occurs, it can have devastating affects on the economy. There are, however, tactics in place that help minimise the economic impact of an outbreak, like compartmentalisation and zoning.

Dr Alejandro Thiermann, also from OIE, was on hand to talk about compartmentalisation and zoning, both of which he said play a role in mitigating the spread of avian flu while minimising its economic impact. While geographic barriers, such as rivers and mountains, define compartments, zones are defined by the use of permits and controls that differentiate the health statuses of specific areas.

Over time, he said, demonstrating effective zones and compartments will help to establish confidence in the local poultry industry.

“Your desire over time, obviously, is to continue to shrink that zone by the effectiveness of your control measures,” added Dr Evans. “By your depopulation, your cleaning and disinfection, and your repopulation and testing programs to demonstrate that you have removed the pathogen or the risk from that area and continue to shrink it down.”

During the course of the talks, several speakers, including Mr Joret, Dr Thiermann and Dr H.M. Hafez of the Institute of Poultry Diseases in Germany, pointed to humans as the main cause of spread.

Limit access to the farm, particularly visitors, they recommended. Potential sources of contamination include service providers, like feed truck drivers, electricians, vaccination crews, supervisors and veterinarians, said Dr Hafez in his presentation.

Depopulation: another potential vector

Should an outbreak strike, bird depopulation presents an additional challenge. In the US, where Jim Dean lost nine million birds, depopulation was an enormous challenge. How does one go about removing 200,000 birds each day?

Expanding on the subject of depopulation, Dr Klaus-Peter Behr of AniCon Labor in Germany pointed to another potential source of contamination: culling crews.

Disease, he said, is easily spread by culling crews and their tools – trucks, forklifts, machinery and containers – as well as by carcass transports. The solution, he said, it to use as few staff as possible.

To mitigate spread, he also recommended the use of mobile showering units for staff, and suggested that the crew be paid to stay away from other poultry operations for up to 72 hours following cleanup.

The OIE continues to work with its members, showing them the benefits of strong biosecurity protocols and good disease reporting, said Dr Evans.

“What we have seen at the global level by the OIE's introduction of these principles and concepts is that we have been able to demonstrate a much better performance by the international community to not overreact to a disease circumstance and to economically punish or a create a disincentive for industries to want to implement the standards,” he concluded.

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