Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Georgia AI preparedness focus of GPIA annual meeting

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By David B. Strickland

Poultry Times Staff

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — The 79th annual meeting of the Georgia Poultry Improvement Association focused on a topic that has been on the forefront of the poultry industry nationwide for a good part of the year — avian influenza.

The meeting, held on Aug. 19, at the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network’s new, state-of-the-art facilities in Gainesville, Ga., was a fitting location for this annual meeting, this year more than most. This facility will be a vanguard in helping to protect the state’s poultry flocks from AI, should it make a resurgence this fall and make its way to Georgia’s farms.

“Our annual meeting went very well this year and was well attended, even though the industry and allied groups are particularly busy at this time with AI preparedness and many other meetings and conflicts,” said Dr. Louise Dufour-Zavala, GPLN executive director.

Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black was the speaker for this year’s event and he provided his thoughts and insights into all of the state’s agricultural industry components working together to combat AI should it affect Georgia’s poultry industry.

“We all know that we are facing some interesting times in the coming months,” Black said. “We are not by accident; we are intentionally the number one state in America for broiler production. We do this on purpose. Therefore, there is a huge responsibility, if we are number one, we best be number one in preparedness. We must be number one in the ability to serve the industry, and be able to reach out and assist those farm families that we all serve together.”

“This is a big message, a big burden; but there are big shoulders in Georgia,” he noted. “It’s a big industry of folks who understand their mission. We will play a very integral part in this over the coming weeks and months.”

Black also referenced famous football coach Vince Lombardi and his quote that, “perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we’ll catch excellence.”

In addressing the bird flu situation, Black noted that, “if we have to engage this virus in the coming months, will we be perfect? I would like to be . . . but I am convinced that if we all ‘chase perfection, we’ll catch excellence.’ I think that’s where we are going to be found.”

He added that his department has been in contact with the USDA regarding the state’s preparedness. “We want USDA to know that Georgia is ready,” he said. “We want USDA to know that our house will be in order if this happens.”

Black also noted the importance of staying in touch with the national agency and maintaining a dialogue on AI.

“I do not find it at all acceptable to have our first conversation with our leadership at USDA right in the middle of a crisis,” he said. “That’s not acceptable. We should all be talking about this issue today. I want USDA to know that Georgia is ready, the companies are ready, our farmers are ready and our department is ready.

“If we have to endure this, we will be well-positioned to serve.”

Black added that efforts are being made now through communication and spreading the vital word on biosecurity to ensure that growers, as well as the general public are aware of the AI situation and how to keep bird flocks safe.

He noted that the department has met with Latino leaders in the Georgia House of Representatives to work on ways of reaching the community on how to keep backyard chickens safe.

He added that the department is also working through the social media outlet Pinterest and working out plans to spread the word through social media on the importance of biosecurity.

“If we don’t communicate with all Georgians, we will miss an opportunity,” Black said. “And I want to make sure that we don’t miss any opportunities to communicate with people about preparedness and biosecurity, and what to do should we run into this challenge.”

While researching backyard chickens on Pinterest, he noted that there was information on how to build coops and how to feed your backyard chickens, but not any information on biosecurity.

“Will we reach everyone? No, we won’t, but if we can flood this area and other areas of social media, then Georgians not affiliated with the industry will be knowledgeable of what is going on,” Black said. “This is a big communication responsibility where we can provide some good leadership.”

“Outreach is already taking place, our work is not over,” he added. “There are a lot of smart people in this room, a lot of dedicated people in this room; and we are going to respond and be best prepared.”

A special unveiling

There was also a special and surprise recognition and unveiling at the GPIA annual meeting.

Conference room space at the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network facility in Gainesville has been named in honor of Dr. Louise Dufour-Zavala, GPLN executive director, and Mike Giles, Georgia Poultry Federation president.

The two, unaware at the time what was about to occur, were asked to climb ladders and reveal signage noting the conference room areas named in their honor.

“I was so incredibly surprised when asked to get on a ladder and pull paper off the walls that hid the dedication signs to one of the lab conference rooms to me,” Zavala said.

“Not sure how the signs were put up and the secret kept until that point . . . but the surprise effect was absolute,” she said, jokingly adding that, “I thought I knew what was going on in this building.”

“I feel honored and very, very humbled,” Zavala said. “What a wonderful gesture for Mike Giles and myself. Thank you Abit Massey! Thank you for your support, GPIA board of directors! It is truly a pleasure to work for this industry every day.”

On his sign unveiling, Giles added that, “I was very surprised by it. We spend a lot of time at the lab meeting with industry and others. The lab, and the people who work there, are so important to the poultry industry. I can’t think of a place that I would be more honored to have my name associated with.”

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