Poultry Industry Stands By Integrity of its Products

"There has never been a case of the Asian Strain of avian influenza in the United States that is causing so much concern worldwide," said Iowa Turkey Federation Executive Director Gretta Irwin, testifying on behalf of the National Turkey Federation. "As a mother and a home economist, I can assure you that the turkey you eat this Thanksgiving will be perfectly safe."

DSRs should check www.avianinfluenzainfo.com for the latest information on bird flu.
Irwin's comments at the hearing were reinforced by Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Ron DeHaven, administrator of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Both encouraged people to practice normal safe food handling techniques and to enjoy the holiday season without concerns about the safety of their food. Proper cooking conditions eliminate the infection in poultry.

During her testimony, Irwin pointed out that the U.S. turkey industry has been "fighting avian influenza long before it started making headlines." She said the industry has been successful in the fight against avian influenza, citing the Iowa program that serves as a model for industry and government cooperation to control the disease and prevent significant outbreaks.

She listed three reasons why the commercial poultry industry – turkey, chicken and eggs – has been able to keep their flocks healthy:

  • Modern production in the commercial industries put a premium on biosecurity.
  • Vertically integrated model used in the poultry industry gives an advantage in responding to and containing any type of disease outbreak.
  • Special controls are in place to detect and control any form of AI.

    Irwin also talked about the importance of USDA's first national program to control Low Pathogenic avian influenza. The rationale behind the program is that if Low Path AI, which is not harmful to humans, is properly controlled then the chances of a Low Path strain mutating into a lethal strain of AI is dramatically reduced, she said.

    Congress gave USDA $23 million for the program in fiscal year 2005, and $12 million of it was set aside to indemnify growers whose flocks had to be destroyed because of a Low Path AI outbreak. She said, "Not one penny of that $12 million had to be used in FY 2005, which is a sign that the industry and state programs, along with the emerging federal effort, are working."

    LIVE BIRD MARKETS TO BE INSPECTED TOO An area of concern that she discussed is the live bird markets. These markets exist in almost every major urban area of the United States and serve those customers who prefer to purchase their poultry live and dress the birds themselves at home. Until recently, these markets have operated with a minimum of government supervision and have been reservoirs of Low Path Irwin. Birds that are sold in these markets are raised in the same areas as commercial poultry, and these growers often return from the markets – traveling through regions with heavy commercial production – having been exposed to Low Path bird flu, said Irwin.

    "One of the most critical components of the new USDA program is its increased surveillance of the live bird markets," said Irwin. "The USDA program calls for periodically closing and cleaning the markets, and funds are available to compensate the market owners for their downtime."

    Irwin made three specific recommendations for this committee:
  • Continue funding USDA's long-term Low Path AI control program at the maximum level necessary.
  • Provide more of the President's request for emergency AI funding to the Agricultural Research Service, which includes some of the world's foremost AI experts, by ensuring their facilities are modern, up-to-date and able to conduct the most sensitive research.
  • Have the United States take the lead for uniting the world in fighting AI in poultry. Too often, AI has become a tool in trade battles, and this distracts from efforts to control the disease globally.

    In another testimony, Dr. Don Waldrip, an industry veterinarian testifying for the National Chicken Council, said the U.S. government and the poultry industry have numerous safeguards in place to keep Asian flu, H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza, out of the country.

    "The United States has multiple lines of defense against Asian H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza," Waldrip told a hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

    Waldrip noted that the "Asian flu," a specific subtype of avian influenza, does not exist in the United States and has never been detected in chicken flocks in this country. He noted that firewalls against the Asian bird flu include:

  • The U.S. has never imported any poultry products from the countries now affected by H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza; none of them have ever been authorized to ship poultry products to the U.S. Importation of live birds, both poultry and pet birds, and other bird products, such as feathers, is banned.
  • Extensive flock testing and surveillance programs are in place and the level of testing will continue to increase, he said. The federal and state governments and the industry cooperate in testing and surveillance, he said.
  • Federal scientists are monitoring migratory birds in Alaska for any indication that migratory birds are carrying the virus into North America. No sign of H5N1 has been detected yet, he said.
  • The poultry industry has policies on biosecurity to prevent the virus from being inadvertently carried onto the farms where birds are produced, he said.

    'EXCELLENT, MODERN PRODUCTION PRACTICES' In a separate interview with Sherrie Rosenblatt, senior director, marketing and communications, for the National Turkey Federation, Washington, DC, ID Access was assured that the turkey and by association the poultry industry has "excellent, modern poultry production practices here that ensure the health and well being of the flock so that we can produce safe, nutritious products for consumers."

    The industry and government have monitoring systems in place that ensure that domestic flocks are not infected and infected birds do not enter or mingle with Americans birds.

    Rosenblatt suggested that DSRs, who are asked about avian influenza by their customers, should assure them that there has never been an outbreak of bird flu in the United States and domestic poultry is safe to consume in a restaurant. She noted that the poultry industry's new website, www.avianinfluenzainfo.com, has useful brochures for sales reps who field operator inquiries about the disease.


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