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Email Content: Poultry Industry News, Comments and more by Simon M. Shane

Congressional Chicken Caucus Requesting Changes in WOAH Definitions


To facilitate exports, members of Congress representing constituencies with significant chicken production have requested the Director of  the USDA-APHIS, Dr. Michael Watson to petition the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) to revise the definition of “poultry”.  Currently WOAH fails to distinguish between commercial production of chickens and turkeys from non-commercial operations that have negligible influence on exports.  Embargos placed on entire states or counties have impeded exports from major broiler production and exporting areas including Georgia, Arkansas and North Carolina. Restrictions have been imposed by importing nations on U.S. states and regions as a result of outbreaks on farms that are not commercial operations unrelated to export.


It is the contention of the chicken caucus that the U.S. suffers from discrimination with respect to competitors including Brazil and Canada that are beneficiaries of exemptions or perhaps have failed to completely disclose the extent of outbreaks of HPAI. 


The letter to Dr. Watson included, “Because WOAH is not taking prompt action on this important matter, APHIS as our Country’s representative to the international body must elevate this issue as an urgent priority for the sake of our farmers’ livelihoods and in order to maintain the value of American agriculture.”  The letter noted that the U.S. Animal Health Association distinguishes among backyard, wild and commercial flocks in the context of international trade. The letter concluded, “America’s agriculture competitiveness depends on having fair, up-to-date global animal health rules which would provide producers with a level playing field.”


While the requested changes in definition are justified, it is questioned whether this will make any difference with respect to nations that discriminate against U.S. exports including China.  This nation only conforms to international standards and agreements when it suits their interests as exemplified by their action since the emergence of the H5N1 panornitic.


It is however ironic that as a segment of the U.S. poultry industry, broiler producers are at this time opposed to vaccination against avian influenza, notwithstanding WOAH policy accepting immunization as an adjunct to biosecurity and quarantines.  The concern by broiler producers is that introduction of vaccination even with appropriate monitoring and surveillance will imply that HPAI infection is endemic.  In reality, HPAI is both regionally and seasonally endemic and despite the depopulation of 80 million birds, over three years, the infection has not been eradicated. Given the epidemiology of the disease involving seasonal introduction by migratory waterfowl and marine birds, infection will persist.  With gathering scientific and anecdotal evidence of aerogenous infection, albeit over short distances biosecurity, however intensive and efficient cannot provide absolute protection.


Mitigation of the financial impact of avian influenza will not be achieved by changes in definitions and trade rules or continued futile attempts at ‘stamping out’. A structured and regulated program of vaccination of turkeys, egg-production flocks and breeders in areas at high risk of infection will lower the incidence rate of seasonal outbreaks. This will reduce the unlikely probability of H5N1 or other pathogenic influenza viruses infecting avian and mammalian livestock from becoming zoonotic.  Acceptance of regional and sector-specific preventive vaccination should be the focus of APHIS representations to the WOAH and our trading partners.

Copyright © 2024 Simon M. Shane