Chickens Get a Bad Name

Few topics have been more discussed in recent months than Bird Flu. Avian Influenza has created an explosion of media coverage – and the threat of a pandemic stemming from the poultry industry has given a good industry a bad rap.

To begin with, there have been no diagnosed cases of HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) in the United States. Even if HPAI were to find its way to the U.S. poultry supply, the industry would be adequately prepared to handle the situation, says Dr. Beth Krushinskie, Vice President, Food Safety and Production Programs, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association. “The agricultural system inherently prevents AI from establishing itself,” she says.

Because growers contract with specific processors to produce birds, there is little cross trafficking between complexes. Poultry is grown in batches, all-in, all-out, so the entire batch of chickens leaves the grower at once, and then the facilities are cleaned and restocked. This type of system simplifies control and the containment process in the event of an outbreak.

In addition, poultry, unlike cattle, is not traded on the open market. Tracking down infected animals becomes much more complicated and costly when they are traded publicly.

The poultry industry is also fortunate enough to have a high level of veterinarian support, enabling diseases to be diagnosed quickly and accurately. The surveillance system includes a sampling scheme for breeder birds, where they are tested for disease every 10 weeks. AI spreads so rapidly within flocks that even sampling of a small amount of birds will uncover the infection.

Whereas HPAI is highly contagious and quickly fatal, LPAI can circulate within flocks without noticeable signs. Because LPH5 and LPH7 can mutate to HPAI, the poultry industry has a “zero tolerance” policy for H5 and H7. Infected birds are destroyed and federal systems are in place to provide support, manpower and money.

Of course, preventing HPAI from entering our poultry supply is paramount, but should the worse-case scenario come true, the industry is prepared to handle the situation.

“As an industry, we are in good shape,” affirms Krushinskie.