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Daily News Blog

18
Apr

USDA Must Take Steps To Prevent an Avian Flu Pandemic

(Beyond Pesticides, April 18, 2022) Industrial poultry operations—generally indoors and with crowded conditions—provide the perfect incubator for pandemic influenza. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “These involve the congregation of large numbers of genetically identical animals of the same age (young) and sex, with rapid turnover and ‘all-in, all-out’ systems.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is delaying the adoption of organic rules that would require meaningful outdoor access and prevent indoor crowding.

Influenza pandemics have killed millions of people—between 20 and 40 million people died in the 1918 pandemic, one million in 1957, and one to three million in 1968. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Influenza type A viruses are of most significance to public health due to their potential to cause an influenza pandemic.” There are several subtypes of type A influenza, which originates in birds. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were 700 human cases of the H5N1 subtype since 2003, and only 40% survived.

Tell USDA to promulgate a strong Organic Livestock and Poultry Standard. Tell USDA to protect against flu pandemics by applying the same rules to all poultry.

Because avian flu poses a risk to domestic poultry as well as humans, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of USDA conducts ongoing surveillance of wild birds, who can carry the virus without becoming sick.

Wild birds provide valuable services to farmers, and pastured poultry is valued for integration with organic farming systems as well as the superior quality of eggs and meat. Yet conventional advice from USDA discourages outdoor access for poultry as well as allowing wildlife on the farm.

The virus thrives on intensive confinement, and the lack of genetic diversity is a contributing factor. If the virus gets into a barn, it will wreak havoc. Hence, USDA and the commercial poultry industry point endlessly to biosecurity, which is integral to conventional industrial production systems, but not as effective as removing the underlying unhealthy conditions that cause the problem. According to the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association,

The virus causes the most damage to intensely confined flocks commonly found in the commercial poultry industry. A relatively small number of backyard birds have also been affected. But backyard is not synonymous with pastured and the commercial flocks, as USDA is reporting them, do not include any pastured flocks.

In the 2014-2015 outbreak the affected sites looked like this:

  • 211 commercial poultry farms killing 50 million chickens and turkeys.
  • 21 backyard flocks killing 10,000 birds. Approximately 5,000 of those backyard birds were on a gamebird farm. 

The outbreak in 2022 is showing similar trends. When you look at the data, there’s a clear risk, and it’s not pastured poultry farms. 

Furthermore, organic poultry is required to have access to the outdoors. However, the National Organic Program lacks regulations to ensure meaningful outdoor access for organic chickens and other animal welfare requirements. After a decade of work by organic stakeholders and the National Organic Standards Board, USDA promulgated the 2017 Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule in the waning days of the Obama administration, then withdrew it in 2018 during the Trump administration. The OLPP contained provisions to ensure outdoor access and prevent indoor crowding, thus reducing the likelihood that organic poultry operations will be incubators for influenza. A remake of the rule (OLPS) is pending.

Tell USDA to promulgate a strong Organic Livestock and Poultry Standard. Tell USDA to protect against flu pandemics by applying the same rules to all poultry.

Letter to USDA (Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Administrator Jenny Tucker):

Industrial poultry operations—generally indoors and with crowded conditions—provide the perfect incubator for pandemic influenza. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “These involve the congregation of large numbers of genetically identical animals of the same age (young) and sex, with rapid turnover and ‘all-in, all-out’ systems.”

Influenza pandemics have killed millions of people—between 20 and 40 million people died in the 1918 pandemic, one million in 1957, and one to three million in 1968. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Influenza type A viruses are of most significance to public health due to their potential to cause an influenza pandemic.” There are several subtypes of type A influenza, which originates in birds. According to the CDC, there were 700 human cases of the H5N1 subtype since 2003, and only 40% survived.

Because avian flu poses a risk to domestic poultry as well as humans, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) conducts surveillance of wild birds, who can carry the virus without becoming sick.

Wild birds provide valuable services to farmers, and pastured poultry is valued for integration with the organic farm as well as the superior quality of eggs and meat. Yet, conventional advice from USDA discourages outdoor access for poultry as well as allowing wildlife on the farm.

The virus thrives on intensive confinement, and the lack of genetic diversity is a contributing factor. If the virus gets into a barn, it will wreak havoc. Hence USDA and the commercial poultry industry drone on and on about biosecurity, which is their only defense, and not as effective as removing the unhealthy conditions. According to the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association,

The virus causes the most damage to intensely confined flocks commonly found in the commercial poultry industry. A relatively small number of backyard birds have also been affected. But backyard is not synonymous with pastured and the commercial flocks, as USDA is reporting them, do not include any pastured flocks.

In the 2014-2015 outbreak the affected sites looked like this:

* 211 commercial poultry farms killing 50 million chickens and turkeys.

* 21 backyard flocks killing 10,000 birds. Approximately 5,000 of those backyard birds were on a gamebird farm. 

The outbreak in 2022 is showing similar trends. When you look at the data, there’s a clear risk, and it’s not pastured poultry farms. 

Furthermore, organic poultry is required to have access to the outdoors. However, the National Organic Program lacks regulations to ensure meaningful outdoor access for organic chickens and other animal welfare requirements. After a decade of work by organic stakeholders and the National Organic Standards Board, USDA promulgated the 2017 Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule in the waning days of the Obama administration, then withdrew it in 2018 during the Trump administration. The OLPP contained provisions to ensure outdoor access and prevent indoor crowding, thus reducing the likelihood that organic poultry operations will be incubators for influenza. A remake of the rule (OLPS) is pending.

We need not only a strong OLPS for the sake of organic integrity, but also similar requirements for non-organic farms to protect against future pandemics. Please ensure that USDA takes steps to require healthy living conditions for all poultry that will not promote the development of the next flu pandemic. We can prevent it if we take the necessary steps to require meaningful outdoor access and eliminate overcrowding in the management of poultry.

Thank you.

Letter to U.S. Representative and Senators:

Industrial poultry operations—generally indoors and with crowded conditions—provide the perfect incubator for pandemic influenza. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “These involve the congregation of large numbers of genetically identical animals of the same age (young) and sex, with rapid turnover and ‘all-in, all-out’ systems.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is delaying the adoption of organic rules that would require meaningful outdoor access and prevent indoor crowding.

Influenza pandemics have killed millions of people—between 20 and 40 million people died in the 1918 pandemic, one million in 1957, and one to three million in 1968. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Influenza type A viruses are of most significance to public health due to their potential to cause an influenza pandemic.” There are several subtypes of type A influenza, which originates in birds. According to the CDC, there were 700 human cases of the H5N1 subtype since 2003, and only 40% survived.

Because avian flu poses a risk to domestic poultry as well as humans, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) conducts surveillance of wild birds, who can carry the virus without becoming sick.

Wild birds provide valuable services to farmers, and pastured poultry is valued for integration with the organic farm as well as the superior quality of eggs and meat. Yet, conventional advice from USDA discourages outdoor access for poultry as well as allowing wildlife on the farm.

The virus thrives on intensive confinement, and the lack of genetic diversity is a contributing factor. If the virus gets into a barn, it will wreak havoc. Hence USDA and the commercial poultry industry drone on and on about biosecurity, which is their only defense, and not as effective as removing the unhealthy conditions. According to the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association,

The virus causes the most damage to intensely confined flocks commonly found in the commercial poultry industry. A relatively small number of backyard birds have also been affected. But backyard is not synonymous with pastured and the commercial flocks, as USDA is reporting them, do not include any pastured flocks.

In the 2014-2015 outbreak the affected sites looked like this:

* 211 commercial poultry farms killing 50 million chickens and turkeys.

* 21 backyard flocks killing 10,000 birds. Approximately 5,000 of those backyard birds were on a gamebird farm. 

The outbreak in 2022 is showing similar trends. When you look at the data, there’s a clear risk, and it’s not pastured poultry farms. 

Furthermore, organic poultry is required to have access to the outdoors. However, the National Organic Program lacks regulations to ensure meaningful outdoor access for organic chickens and other animal welfare requirements. After a decade of work by organic stakeholders and the National Organic Standards Board, USDA promulgated the 2017 Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule in the waning days of the Obama administration, then withdrew it in 2018 during the Trump administration. The OLPP contained provisions to ensure outdoor access and prevent indoor crowding, thus reducing the likelihood that organic poultry operations will be incubators for influenza. A remake of the rule (OLPS) is pending.

We need not only a strong OLPS for the sake of organic integrity, but also similar requirements for non-organic farms to protect against future pandemics. Please ask USDA to take steps to require healthy living conditions for all poultry that will not promote the development of the next flu pandemic. We can prevent it if we take the necessary steps to require meaningful outdoor access and eliminate overcrowding in the management of poultry.

Thank you.

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