Key Senate Committee Examines Avian Flu Threat to U.S. Poultry Industry

Senator Carper: With continued hard work, coordination and determination, we can and will solve this problem and protect our farmers together

WASHINGTON – Today, Sen. Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, examined coordinated efforts among government, industry, and academia to mitigate the threat of avian influenza during today’s hearing, “Stopping an Avian Influenza Threat to Animal and Public Health.”

“America’s poultry industry is an integral part of our national economy, adding nearly $350 billion to our economy and supporting millions of jobs nationwide. In Delaware, our poultry farmers create more than $2.7 billion in economic activity each year and account for about 70 percent of the First State’s agricultural exports. Today, parts of the poultry industry across the country are grappling with the devastating impacts of the recent outbreak of avian influenza. Although the spread of the disease has slowed, many states have lost millions of chickens and turkeys to this disease, and the losses for our farmers, businesses and economy are staggering. We cannot rest on our laurels – this avian influenza outbreak has us on high alert in Delaware and up and down the east coast, in Washington D.C.,  and across the country,” Sen. Carper said.

In his testimony, University of Delaware (UD) Professor, Dr. Jack Gelb emphasized the critical importance of the issue to the state of Delaware. “Seventy percent of the farm income in Delaware is tied to poultry, including the production of corn and soybean for feed ingredients. Moreover, the so-called multiplier effect that accounts for direct and indirect infusions to the agriculture economy bring the annual value of poultry to $3.2 billion, and 13,500 jobs. All of this is impressive, especially for a state the size of Delaware, but it places great emphasis on preventing highly contagious diseases such as avian influenza.”

Sen. Carper added, “Today’s hearing was a critical opportunity to examine the most up-to-date details surrounding our nation’s avian influenza outbreak from experts in the public and private sector, and academia – including Dr. Gelb from the University of Delaware. Those experts echoed promising signs that farmers, the industry and local, state and federal officials across the country are continuing to work closely together to monitor and mitigate the spread of the virus, and help those impacted farmers recover.

“As we heard today, there are a number of measures that we’re already doing to prevent an outbreak, and I was especially proud to learn more about Delaware’s leadership in addressing this disease,” he continued. “Those measures include increasing bio-surveillance of migratory birds that may be impacted and increased biosecurity at our farms. But we can and should do more, and take the lessons learned from past outbreaks. As we address this issue, we also must be mindful of any solutions that might have impacts on trade. As someone that has spent years trying to open up poultry markets – and finally seeing some successes – I would be disappointed, to say the least, to see poultry markets be closed to us once again. I look forward to continuing this conversation with USDA and others in the Administration. With continued hard work, coordination and determination, we can and will solve this problem and protect our farmers together.”

In Delaware, top-level experts like UD Professor Dr. Gelb are working with state officials to identify best practices for farmers, industry and local and state government to prevent future or further outbreaks.

The hearing offered members an opportunity to delve into some of the best practices established in states, like Delaware, to monitor the strain of the disease and prevent any potential further outbreak through improved biosecurity practices at all levels. When Sen. Carper asked about lessons learned, Dr. Gelb answered that, “biosecurity is really a key issue.”

In his testimony, Dr. Clifford from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reiterated the importance of biosecurity, and that “proper biosecurity begins at the farm’s edge. What this outbreak has taught us is that the biosecurity measures that extend on the farm into each individual barn or facility are equally or, at times, more important than the farm’s edge approach. Based on the belief that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ we plan to work with our producer and State and local partners to strengthen biosecurity measures.”

For more information or to watch the hearing, click here. For Sen. Carper’s opening statement, read here or watch here. For University of Delaware Prof., Dr. Jack Gelb’s testimony, watch here.

Click here to download Sen. Carper’s opening statement.

Click here to download UD Professor, Dr. Gelb’s testimony.

Click here to download Sen. Carper’s questions to the witnesses during the hearing