By Steve Olson
Special to Poultry Times
BUFFALO, Minn. — On behalf of all of Minnesota’s poultry producers, processors and allied industry a sincere and huge thank you to everyone — USDA, state, academia, industry — involved in assisting us in responding to our 2015 highly-pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) crisis! As you would expect with a crisis of this magnitude the response was not flawless but all parties worked together to improve the response during the outbreak and in preparing for future outbreaks.
Since HPAI H5N2 first appeared in early 2015, appropriately, there have been several “lessons learned” presentations at a variety of events. Thank you to U.S. Poultry & Egg Association (USPOULTRY) for their leadership in initiating, planning and hosting a joint industry-USDA Lessons Learned conference last July in Des Moines. Each of these meetings is an opportunity to improve our response to HPAI and any foreign animal disease. Since there is so much information, and much of it has been covered previously, I’m going to focus this column on a few key reminders from my perspective, reflecting on Minnesota’s 2015 response and preparations to handle future HPAI introductions.
The foundation for our HPAI response in 2015 was established long ago by industry, university researchers and government officials. They developed a cooperative approach to bird health by establishing plans to identify and respond to disease outbreaks through research and surveillance programs. The cooperation led to trust and communication. During the 2015 HPAI outbreak we referred to the crisis as “wartime.” Wartime is not the time to start building relationships with allies, which include other poultry companies, government animal health officials, environmental regulators and university Extension and researchers.
Over the past 10 years, Minnesota’s Board of Animal Health has coordinated table top exercises where HPAI scenarios led to tweaking our response plans and, more importantly, a better understanding of the role of the various players. Likewise, the various segments of the poultry industry: turkey, layer, broiler and gamebirds, need to know and trust each other. Your state’s poultry association, Extension, board of animal health and/or state department of agriculture can take the lead in convening regular meetings of representatives from those entities.
All three segments of Minnesota’s poultry industry have developed prevention and control plans which outline how each segment will prevent introductions through increased biosecurity; conduct surveillance during peacetime, alert and wartime; and implement of depopulation and disposal methods to contain the virus and prevent infections of other poultry farm and industry segments. The development of these regional prevention and control plans resulted from open and, at times painful discussions, with each other. Each segment understands it is a risk to the other segments and vice versa.
Response capacity — Key questions to ask include: Who is the lead agency? Who will be the incident commander? How deep is their bench? In Minnesota we are developing plans to be able to respond longer ourselves by having state officials in key positions to enhance continuity during the outbreak and be better prepared if USDA resources are diverted to other states because of a wider geographic outbreak. Having consistent case managers (points of contact for each farm) versus rotating personnel is critical. Again it goes back to farmers being able to build a sustaining relationship with the case manager and case managers utilizing their expertise to deliver consistent information.
Diagnostic capacity — Does your state have a lab certified by the USDA National Animal Health Lab Network (NAHLN)? These labs meet the requirements to run certain tests. More importantly, how will your state diagnostic lab adjust its staffing to meet the barrage of PCR tests need for diagnostic, surveillance zone and business continuity testing? Do the lab technicians fully understand the consequences of this virus on poultry farmers as well as their critical role diagnosing HPAI and on-going surveillance? Does the lab have plans for surge testing and shift routine and diagnostic testing for other species?
Secure Poultry Supply plans
There are several areas I’m grateful for prior planning. One of those areas is business continuity through the development of the Secure Poultry Supply plans. This was initiated 10 years ago by the University of Minnesota, Iowa State University, USDA and industry to evaluate the risk of moving poultry and poultry products from non-infected farms in a control zone. The result is a science-based permitting system that reduces the risk of spreading disease. Without the Secure Poultry Supply plans, our crisis would have been a devastating disaster, economically wiping out non-infected farms. You can find more information on Secure Poultry Supply on the web: www.secureeggsupply.com, www.secureturkeysupply.com and www.securebroilersupply.com.
Strong relationships lead to better communication. In Minnesota we formed a poultry communicators group that coincidentally held a meeting in February 2015 to discuss messaging of various entities. When HPAI expanded beyond the first flock, the poultry communicators met via conference call regularly to discuss messaging and how to provide regular, transparent and consistent information to the public through the barrage of media inquiries. Our state’s Board of Animal Health and Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the governor’s office, facilitated regular press conference calls. The state veterinarian and various agency commissioners of agriculture, health, natural resources, pollution control provided opening statements and then answered questions from media.
As we look ahead to 2016 and beyond, please don’t hesitate to contact me for more information on Minnesota’s HPAI response efforts and lessons learned.
Midwest Poultry Federation
Switching gears, this is your official invitation to the 45th annual Midwest Poultry Federation (MPF) convention and trade show, March 15-17, in Saint Paul, Minn. Here are just a few of the highlights:
- More exhibits and exhibitors — MPF has opened a third exhibit hall and expanded by 76 booth spaces this year!
- Learn & Go sessions — MPF is offering two learn and go sessions focusing on the upcoming implementation of FDA’s Veterinary Feed Directive regulations.
- Our ever traditional and popular Fellowship Breakfast will feature Andy Vance, columnist with Feedstuff as well as recognize the support of our exhibitors with longevity awards.
- Jennie-O Turkey Store will bring in its food trailer to demonstrate a variety of recipes and provide samples to convention attendees.
- Simmering Issues — this workshop will feature a panel discussion about the impact of foodservice and retail movement to sourcing eggs from hens housed in cage-free production systems.
For more information, check out www.MidwestPoultry.com.
Steve Olson is executive director of the Midwest Poultry Federation, the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the Chicken & Egg Association of Minnesota, all with offices in Buffalo, Minn.