Monday, September 25, 2023

Disease challenges were prevalent in 2020 for both people and animals

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Biosecurity is key for 2021 success

By Jim Sumner

USA Poultry & Egg Export Council

Special to Poultry Times

STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. — When people in our industry look back on 2020, they will no doubt think of it as the year of disease, and not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus has posed numerous, well-chronicled challenges, impacting plant operations, and adding to production costs, disrupting trade channels in the U.S. and overseas, and upending the foodservice sector.

But it is animal diseases that have been — and will continue to be — of greatest significance for our industry and trade, more so than any free trade agreement or action taken by the World Trade Organization. The animal diseases making a major impact on trade as it relates to poultry and eggs are African swine fever and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.


As this is being written, HPAI is ravaging Europe with most every country affected, along with many countries in Asia and Africa. In the U.S., we know from experience the harm that HPAI causes to a poultry exporting nation’s trade by shutting down its markets. Now, other countries are facing this crisis.

But one country’s loss of markets can lead to another country’s opportunity, as a country not hit by HPAI can find new places to export. One such example occurred when HPAI broke out in the Netherlands which held a competitive advantage over the U.S. for egg exports to Japan as a result of a free-trade agreement it had with Japan. But HPAI effectively negated that advantage, bolstering U.S. egg exports to Japan.


ASF has presented a similar situation. Most notably, the disease devastated China’s hog industry. With pork, the preferred meat protein there, in limited supply, China had to turn to alternatives and exports, including poultry from the U.S. to feed its population.

The U.S. had regained access to export poultry to China in 2020 after being banned from the market for what were essentially political reasons for five years.

Now, already, China is our top market in terms of broiler export value, and number two in export volume, behind only Mexico. We seized an opportunity that was created as the result of animal disease.

Yet, while animal diseases can present opportunities, they also pose a great risk: the risk that they will come to the U.S.  It is not a far reach to think that ASF, for instance, could “jump” the ocean and touch us in North America.

As noted, HPAI has occurred here, in 2014 and 2015, and could again. We have not been immune from it this year, either, as turkey farms in North Carolina and South Carolina had detections, which led to the extended shutdown of some key poultry export markets.


As an industry, we need to be vigilant in our biosanitary precaution measures to guard against another HPAI outbreak. This will not be easy. Since it is present in birds in most of the flyways of Europe and Asia and since these flyways tend to comingle over the Arctic, it will be a great challenge to keep it from spreading in the U.S.

All of which makes it vital to listen to these words from Dr. John Clifford, the former chief veterinary officer for the United States, who now serves USAPEEC as our Veterinary Trade Policy Advisor.

“Biosecurity is something in poultry that needs to be practiced 365 days a year,” Clifford says.

There is reason to be weary as we head into a new year; 2020 has been a tough one.

And there is reason to be wary as we head into 2021. But now is not the time to let our guard down when it comes to biosecurity. We must remain vigilant and always on alert.

Our industry, and future opportunities, depend on it.

Jim Sumner is president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council with offices in Stone Mountain, Ga.

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