New poultry program ensures safety

SALEM, Ohio – Much of the poultry industry agreed last week to test all of its flocks for a deadly strain of bird flu.
The voluntary program was announced Jan. 5 and National Chicken Council said companies with more than 90 percent of U.S. chicken production are already enrolled.
Participating companies will test every flock for the H5 and H7 strains. The samples will be taken on the farms and if any results are positive, the flock will be destroyed without ever having been to the processing plant, the council said.
Although the H5N1 form of the bird flu has never been found in the U.S., the virus has claimed the lives of 76 people and millions of birds overseas.
Ahead of the game. This is a “phenomenal” move for the poultry industry, however Pennsylvania is already ahead of the rest of the country, said Christian Herr, PennAg Industries vice president.
Approximately 240,000 surveillance tests are already done annually on all Pennsylvania flocks, he said.
“We might as well know if we have it and be able to act quickly,” he said.
In early 2004, these tests caught a low-risk strain in Lancaster County, Pa. Herr said because it was caught early, officials dealt with it rather than letting it fester and become a much larger, more serious outbreak.
“Our industry sees the value of being forthright,” he said.
This leads to not only safety, Herr said, but also consumer confidence.
Already testing. Ohio poultry producers are also already testing for avian influenza, said Jim Chakeres, Ohio Poultry Association executive vice president.
As part of a surveillance plan launched in November, Chakeres said every Ohio commercial flock the association has talked with has agreed to the voluntary testing.
The National Chicken Council program just adds another level of consumer confidence, he said. In addition, it offers a reporting system, he said.
The industry could have said it was free of this strain of the bird flu, but now we have proof, Chakeres said.
Sign up. National Chicken Council is accepting sign-ups.
Participating companies must keep records of flocks tested under the program. They must also have audits done at least once a year by independent third-party auditors.
According to the council, more than 99 percent of all chicken consumed in the U.S. is also produced here. The rest is imported from Canada.
The U.S. does not allow live poultry or poultry products to be imported from countries affected by the Asian bird flu, the council said.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)
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