As the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, one of my top priorities is to examine issues affecting the security and economic prosperity of our nation – especially those issues that matter to Delawareans.
This week in Washington, I welcomed government officials and experts across the public and private sector – including Dr. Jack Gelb, a professor at the University of Delaware (UD) and Director of the UD Avian Biosciences Center – for a committee hearing to examine the threat of avian flu to our nation’s poultry 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, the poultry industry is a staple of our economy, and for every Delawarean there are 300 chickens in the state. Our state’s poultry farmers created more than $4.6 billion in economic activity in 2014 alone, accounting for $140 million in global exports last year.
Today, parts of the poultry industry across the country – mostly in the Midwest – are grappling with the impacts of the recent outbreak of avian flu, which has resulted in the loss of millions of egg layer chickens and turkeys. Although the spread of avian flu has slowed, and our poultry farmers in Delaware have not been impacted by the outbreak, we remain on high alert. In Delaware, in Washington, and across the country: we cannot rest on our laurels when it comes to stopping the spread of the avian flu.
Experts at the hearing discussed the most up-to-date details surrounding our nation’s unprecedented avian flu outbreak, including efforts already underway to prevent future or further outbreaks. As we learned during the hearing, farmers, industry and local, state and federal officials are already taking a number of measures to prevent another outbreak. Delaware is helping to lead the way. 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. We must also 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 these poultry markets be closed to our farmers once again.
In Delaware and in the nation’s capital, I will continue to carry this conversation on with farmers, industry, experts and government officials. With continued hard work and coordination, we can and will solve the problem of avian flu and protect our farmers and consumers together.