USDA to help farms cover costs of avian flu

Sep 25, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said last week it would, under certain conditions, reimburse commercial poultry farms for the cost of stopping low-pathogenic H5 and H7 avian influenza outbreaks.

Under a new rule, the USDA promised to provide "100 percent indemnity for specified costs" involved in eradicating H5 and H7 viruses at commercial poultry operations that participate in the National Poultry Improvement Program (NPIP), a voluntary federal, state, and industry program to prevent the spread of poultry diseases.

Until now, the states usually handled reimbursement for the costs of fighting avian flu, and the provisions varied, the USDA said.

"This program expansion strengthens U.S. protections against poultry diseases such as avian influenza," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, head of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). He said the change also helps ensure US compliance with international animal health guidelines that require countries to report all H5 and H7 virus detections.

The program expansion will encourage testing and provide incentives to report outbreaks. It also demonstrates the USDA's commitment to openness about H5 and H7 viruses in the country's bird populations, officials said.

Low-pathogenic avian flu poses no risk to human health, but the USDA's policy is to eradicate H5 and H7 viruses because they can mutate into highly pathogenic forms, the agency said.

The NPIP, dating back to the 1930s, is a coordinated effort to certify poultry flocks as free of diseases. Until now, only breeder flocks could be included in NPIP avian flu programs. The new rule expands the program to include commercial production flocks, including "table-egg layers, meat-type chickens, and meat-type turkeys."

To be eligible for full indemnification, commercial poultry facilities and states must meet certain requirements. The main requirements are that:

  • States must have a surveillance program for all poultry.
  • States must have APHIS-approved plans spelling out response and containment efforts in case of an H5 or H7 outbreak.
  • Industry must maintain active surveillance that includes testing of birds and eggs.

The new rule takes effect Sep 26, when it will be published in the Federal Register, the USDA said.

In other developments, the USDA confirmed Sep 23 that the avian flu virus found in mallard ducks in Pennsylvania last month was the low-pathogenic North American strain of H5N1.

Screening results announced Sep 2 pointed to a mild form of H5N1 virus in samples from mallards in Crawford County, Pa., but further testing was necessary, the agency said. Genetic testing excluded the possibility of the lethal Asian strain of H5N1 in the ducks.

Mild forms of H5N1 have also been found recently in mallard ducks in Maryland and in two swans in Michigan.

See also:

Sep 23 USDA news release on the NPIP changes

Sep 23 USDA news release on mild H5N1 in Pennsylvania ducks

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