Stresses to House Ag Committee need for critical resources, industry recovery plan
Harrisburg , PA - State Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding today stressed to members of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee that Pennsylvania is on high alert against highly pathogenic avian influenza – an economically devastating disease that is making its way eastward across the United States and that threatens the state’s $13 billion poultry industry, as well as the 53,000-plus jobs that depend on it.
The disease, which has no known impact to human health, has been found in 20 other states, including the most recent confirmation in Macomb County, Mich., which is only 150 miles across Lake Erie from Pennsylvania. More than 47 million birds have been killed by the virus to date.
“Let me start off by saying that there has not been a confirmed case of HPAI in Pennsylvania to date, but that does not mean we can rest easy,” Redding noted during his remarks. “Since February, we have been working diligently to monitor the situations in other states, planning our response, and taking inventory of available resources should we need to mobilize.”
Since December 2014, two different avian influenza Type-A virus strains – highly pathogenic H5N2, which has caused more than 95 percent of the infections associated with the present threat, and highly pathogenic H5N8 – have been associated with the country’s current outbreak.
The virus has spread west to east primarily through migratory birds from the Pacific to the Central flyway to the Mississippi flyway. The Atlantic flyway, which intersects with the Mississippi flyway and overlies Pennsylvania, has not yet shown birds carrying the virus.
“Our scale of our response effort will be dictated by the size and scope of any outbreak,” Redding added. “While we don’t necessarily know when avian influenza will appear in the commonwealth, we do know that we will be ready to address it, and it will take a multi-agency, intergovernmental cooperative effort to respond.”
The department has been working to prepare for the possibility of HPAI entering the state. Over the past four months, the department has, among other things:
- Convened a high-path AI task force with the industry and academia to collaborate on all aspects of response and recovery planning.
- Met with Governor Wolf, cabinet members, and legislators to discuss the situation and the needed steps to be taken should the virus be found here.
- Conducted multiple tabletop exercises to practice various scenarios and familiarize the department’s staff and industry stakeholders with response and recovery activities in the event of an outbreak.
- Met with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the departments of General Services and Environmental Protection, the State Police, the Game Commission, the Air National Guard, and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Veterinary Services and Wildlife Services to discuss possible needs during a large outbreak.
- Established response protocols with USDA APHIS and discussed biosecurity measures for responders and the industry, as well as protocols for federal indemnification, the depopulation and disposal of dead birds, and how to manage the movement of poultry and poultry products into, within and out of quarantine zones.
- Suspended all avian shows at county fairs in 2015 and at the 2016 Pennsylvania Farm Show.
- Issued an interstate quarantine order requiring all poultry moving to live bird markets and flocks producing eggs destined for commercial breaking operations in Pennsylvania to meet a 72-hour testing requirement.
“While we are in a good position regarding our preparedness work, our obligation to monitor flocks, live bird markets, and members of the allied industry will further strain our already over-extended animal health team,” Redding cautioned. “Obviously, should HPAI be found in Pennsylvania, we will reallocate existing resources to manage the situation, but let there be no mistake: our limited complement in this area leaves us vulnerable. We in the administration look forward to working with the General Assembly to ensure the commonwealth has the resources it needs to mount an effective response.”
Beyond concerns over available resources to facilitate a response and further surveillance and containment work, Redding questioned what an outbreak would mean for the poultry and egg producers and growers in Pennsylvania, including the families who depend on that income.
“While there is a degree of uncertainty in how large a response may be necessary, we know what it will take and how to do it. What we do not know is how long it might take the industry to recover,” said Redding, noting reports that some flock owners in California have been out of business for months after birds tested positive there.
“Responding to positive flocks will not be a quick matter,” he advised. “Depending on the size of any given operation, depopulating poultry houses could take days or weeks. Disposing of dead birds could take weeks or even months in the case of especially large flocks. And decontaminating houses could take considerably more time. This could leave some growers or producers out of business for months. We cannot allow these families and operators to be out of business that long. That is why having the necessary resources to mount a timely and effective response is critical.”
For more information about avian influenza, visit www.agriculture.state.pa.us or http://1.usa.gov/18t1E5p.
MEDIA CONTACT: Brandi Hunter-Davenport - 717.787.5085
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