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Safeguards in Place To Keep "Asian Flu" Out of U.S., Poultry Industry Tells Senate

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WASHINGTON, DC, November 17, 2005 - 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, an industry spokesman told a committee of the U.S. Senate today.

“The United States has multiple lines of defense against Asian H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza,” Dr. Don Waldrip, an industry veterinarian testifying for the National Chicken Council, told the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry at a hearing today.

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. Importationof 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.

The United States poultry industry is also fundamentally different from the Asian countries in which H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza has been a problem, Waldrip noted.

“Poultry production in the affected areas of Asia relies mostly on small farms and free-roaming backyard or village poultry of mixed species that come into frequent and close contact with people,” he said. “The virus is present in wild birds, especially waterfowl, and there is often a commingling of several domestic and wild avian species,” he said.

Birds are often sold in live markets in Asia, creating “almost perfect conditions” for the perpetuation of the virus, he said.

“In stark contrast, chickens in the United States are mostly raised in enclosed houses, a practice which greatly reduces the risk of exposure to wild birds and predators,” he said. “Good biosecurity practices are followed on the farms and throughout our production or live operations, and the health status of the flocks are monitored throughout the growout cycle.”

“The coordinated surveillance and testing program conducted by industry and government in this country simply does not exist in Asia,” he noted. “If testing and flock surveillance should result in a positive finding of an H5 or H7 strain of AI in the United States, it would be the policy of our industry and government to eradicate the avian influenza as quickly as possible after detection. We would immediately destroy the infected flock or flocks and institute quarantines and testing on other flocks in that area.”

Waldrip urged the federal government to contribute to the eradication of “Asian bird flu” in its current range in Asia. He said that could help prevent it from spreading to the United States.

Waldrip is a member of the American College of Poultry Veterinarians and is director of animal health and live production for Wayne Farms LLC of Oakwood, Georgia. He is a member of the National Chicken Council Growout Committee. The National Chicken Council represents integrated chicken producer-processors, the companies that produce, process and market chickens. Member companies of NCC account for approximately 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States.