Dossier USA: Broiler production – the next front in the animal welfare debate in the USA

Forune Online, by Beth Kowitt, @bethkowitt, December 7, 2015. Last month Taco Bell became the latest of the major fast-food chains to commit to serving eggs only from cage-free hens. The brand behind Cap’n Crunch doughnut holes and Doritos taco shells was the deciding vote in the animal-rights debate: Cage-free eggs are now the norm.

But while the chickens may have flown the cage, the animal-welfare debate rages on. The next front: “fast growth” broiler chickens. For years the poultry industry has intentionally bred its birds to get bigger faster on less feed. In 1925 the average broiler chicken weighed 2.5 pounds when it went to market at 112 days old. Today the average goes to market after just 48 days at 6.2 pounds—essentially we’ve created giant chickens.

That’s great for efficiency but maybe not so great for chickens. The Humane Society of the U.S. says the practices can inflict broilers with leg disorders, weakened immune systems, and cardiovascular problems.

Some of the biggest food companies—General Mills and Nestlé and food service giants Aramark and Compass Group—have acknowledged that fast-growth poultry is an issue to at least discuss. Companies say they are “working to understand” or “working with [their] suppliers to address” it. Definitive language, no—but it sounds a lot like what companies said in the early days of cage-free eggs.

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Dossier Depopulation strategies: Neutralization of Risks instead of Stamping-out

The latest outbreak of High Pathogen Avian Influenza in the USA and Canada in the spring of this year and the inability to avoid animal welfare catastrophes ultimately proves that new emergency response strategies are needed. Strategies that are based on taking away the source of infection instead of killing as many animals as possible within 24 hours, regardless the consequences.

The statement that “It’s possible that human infections with these viruses may occur” and that “these viruses have not spread easily to other people” is confusing. Humans can become infected without showing clinical signs. They can become the major carrier of the infection.

Especially during depopulation activities, viruses easily transmit through responders. Tasks like taking layers out of their cages and transport the birds manually through the narrow walkways between the cages, and disposal of infected animals are specific risks that need to be avoided. Simply switching of the electricity so that sick birds don’t have to be handled is not the solution.

Although humans are supposed to be less susceptible, they can become carrier of the virus. Only the highest level of biosecurity could prevent the transmission through the humans and materials that have been in direct contact with infected animals and materials.

Simply switching of the electricity so that sick birds don’t have to be handled is not the solution. Avoid killing animals is always the better option and in Germany, the discussion on the strategy based on neutralizing risks and is in the making. Avoiding situations demands a proactive role of the poultry industry.

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Ventilation Shutdown

Who takes the responsibility to flip the switch?

On September 18, 2015 the USA Government and the American egg producers announced that they would accept the Ventilation shutdown method as a method of mass destruction of poultry when other options, notably water-based foam and CO2, are not available for culling at the farm within 24-36 hours. This is actually the case on all caged layer farms in the USA, in particular in Iowa.

The Ventilation shutdown method consists of stopping ventilation, cutting off drinking water supply, and turning on heaters to raise the temperature in the poultry house to a level between 38 Celsius and 50 Celsius. Birds die of heat stress and by lack of oxygen in a process that easily takes over after a period of at least 3 days. Ventilation shutdown is a killing method without prior stunning of the birds, and as such is contrary to all international Animal Welfare standards.

Animal welfare specialists in disease control strongly oppose this introduction of the cruelest method of killing poultry that lost their economic value. The Humane Society (HSUS) described it as the “inhumane mass baking of live chickens”. With adequate preparation the alternative methods, like the water-based Anoxia foam method, can be available at each farm for immediate use in case of an outbreak. The ban of the Ventilation shutdown method should therefore be maintained and the Anoxia method should be further developed so that is suitable for application to caged layers and turkeys. In Germany, such a system is currently under development and will become commercially available soon.

The poultry industry in the USA ignores this development and asks for a formal approval of the Ventilation Shutdown method. Speaking on August 19, 2015, during the United Egg Producers (UEP) national briefing webinar, UEP President Chad Gregory explained that much research is being done concerning the feasibility of such a depopulation program.

“The government, the producers, the states and UEP, we all recognize that depopulation is going to have to happen faster and ideally within 24 hours.”

Quick depopulation of affected flocks is important, Gregory said, because the sooner a flock is depopulated, the risk of the virus going into fans and out into the atmosphere becomes smaller. Gregory said ventilation shutdown – if approved – would probably only be used in a worst-case scenario or when all other euthanasia options have been exhausted. Gregory did not elaborate on how to adequately prevent outbreaks and how to promote more animal-friendly methods.

The latest draft of the USDA Foreign Animal Disease Preparation Plan was published on August 25, 2015, and the publication of the Ventilation Shutdown Evidence & Policy on September 18, 2015, effectively created facts on the ground. This was done in a unilateral way, without any political consultation, without informing trade partners, and without a fundamental discussion whether or not the Ventilation Shutdown method should be made acceptable at all.

From a strategic point of view, the US poultry industry created an unprecedented commercial advantage for itself. Their competitors in Europe are responsible for biosecurity and for prevention of risks of infection, based on EU legislation. Each country has to implement a National Emergency Response plan based on Directive EC 1099/2009.
In Germany, public private partnerships called “Tierseuchenkasse” are responsible for the preparation of emergency response to outbreaks like HPAI, and work on an insurance model. The German government, the EU and the industry collectively carry the costs for emergency response activities.

TTIP

This is not the case in the USA. There, USDA APHIS is responsible for response activities and the taxpayer is paying the costs. This is a significant advantage over European producers, and with the TTIP ‘free trade’ negotiations in their final stage, the European poultry industry will be confronted with a significant distortion of trading conditions by this abandonment of animal welfare as a boundary condition in culling operations in the USA.

US egg producers are actively creating facts that will be very difficult to undo, and with the Ventilation Shutdown Method officially accepted by USDA Aphis, the industry effectively avoids to take its responsibility for risks inherent to the type of production with 31.000.000 caged layers, packed on 35 farms, and caged layer farms with an average size of 913.000 caged layers per farm. The consequences will be devastating: all Asian producers, who routinely use cage systems to produce eggs, will follow the example of the USA, just to be able to compete with the American poultry industry.

For the producers within the EU, it will even more difficult to compete with the US poultry producers. The ventilation shutdown method will on the mid- and long term destroy cage free egg production policy in Europe, putting the EU egg production methods as demanded by the European consumers at risk. In case the European industry would not able to produce against compatible prices, the consumers will become completely dependent on eggs produced outside the EU. As the situation is now, TTIP will not allow for mandatory labeling of animal welfare on eggs, so that EU consumers only will have the price as their decision criterion.

Senator Ron Johnson calls emergency response an economic issue; the Foreign Animal Disease Preparedness & Response Plan puts the limit for Stamping-Out on 24 hours; official guidelines introduce the Ventilation Shutdown method as a legitimate culling method in situations described as “where all other euthanasia options have been exhausted’ – the Ventilation Shutdown method in the USA is a fact with disastrous consequences for animal welfare and a new obstacle to TTIP.

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Dossier H5N2: Stamping Out strategy failed

In order to become one step ahead of an outbreak of high pathogen diseases like the current H5N2, the veterinary authorities need to stop the outbreak immediately after the first signals occur. Strict and thorough biosecurity measures are the most fundamental feature to protect poultry flocks on farms.

Without functional culling techniques, the options to effectively and efficiently cull in average more than 925,000 chickens per farm (in Iowa, USA) are limited: either by macerating the chickens alive – or by ventilation shut-down (closing down all ventilation, placing heaters inside the house, and heat the entire house to a temperature higher than 600 C).

Although both methods cause death of the birds, it has not been proven to be effective nor efficient. The primary goal to slowdown outbreaks and bring it to a complete stop but macerating live birds and killing them by heat stress and lack of oxygen would be against all International Animal Welfare standards.

Animal welfare specialists in disease control strongly oppose against the introduction of these most cruel methods of killing poultry and argue that the ban on these methods should be maintained and alternative methods need to be considered.

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Dossier FLI Seminar: Large-scale response leads to further spreading

Before introduction of the ban on conventional battery cages in the EU from January 2012, battery cages were still common in the Netherlands. An evaluation of the statistics of the Dutch outbreak (in total 1.134 culling operations – more than 29 million birds) shows that 79.2% of all the infected/suspected farms H7N7 was reintroduced were labor-intensive layers/parent stock farms; 8,7 % were turkey farms.

This demonstrates that especially during depopulation activities, viruses easily transmit to responders, tasked for taking layers out of their cages, transport them through the narrow walkways between the cages to a disposal container placed outside of the house. Although humans are supposed to be less susceptible, they can become carrier of the virus. Only the highest level of biosecurity could prevent the transmission through the humans and materials that have been in direct contact with infected animals and materials.

New strategies are needed to take away the source of infection during response activities. At the FLI Animal Welfare and Disease Control Seminar, organized at September 23, 2015 in Celle, Germany, a group of international experts will give their vision on how the possible contribution of each transmission route could be determined and how a revolutionary new response strategy could be developed, based on the principle of neutralizing transmission routes. Data analysis of the outbreak in Holland will be discussed, with contributions of top scientist who recently published on the Dutch outbreak, like dr. Guus Koch, dr. Marien Gerritzen, and dr. Elbers.

This international – English-language based – seminar is open for animal welfare specialists, veterinary specialists, and emergency response experts. The event takes place on the premises of FLI; starts at 9 AM; and closes at 4 PM, after the general discussion.

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Dossier H5N2: killing poultry – without stunning! – by creating heat stress and suffication

The USA Government and industry groups seek ways to expedite depopulation of flocks affected by avian influenza when other options are exhausted.This would be against all International Animal Welfare standards, to kill poultry without prior stunning, by shutting down all ventilation and putting heaters to raise the temperature to a level that poultry would be killed by heat stress and lack of oxygen. Animal welfare specialists in disease control strongly oppose against the introduction of the most cruel method of killing poultry that lost their economic value and need to be culled, as if there would not be alternative methods available, like the Anoxia method. The ban of Ventilation shutdown method should therefore be maintained and the Anoxia method should b further developed so that is suitable for applying to caged layers and turkeys. In Germany, such system is currently under development and will be commercially available this Autumn.

The poultry industry in the USA is not aware of this development and pledges for the formal approval of the Ventilation Shutdown method as a form of emergency depopulation of flocks that have been affected by highly pathogenic avian influenza. Speaking August 19 during the United Egg Producers (UEP) national briefing webinar, UEP President Chad Gregory explained that much research is being done concerning the feasibility of such a depopulation program.

“The government, the producers, the states and UEP, we all recognize that depopulation is going to have to happen faster and ideally within 24 hours,” said Gregory. Quick depopulation of affected flocks is important, Gregory said, because the sooner a flock is depopulated, the risk of the virus going into fans and out into the atmosphere becomes smaller. Gregory said ventilation shutdown – if approved – would probably only be used in a worst-case scenario or when all other euthanasia options have been exhausted.

UEP’s animal welfare scientific committee, the American Association of Avian Pathologists (AAAP), and other organizations have visited with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) about the issue, but Gregory said much research still needs to be done, taking into account factors such as temperatures, if any supplemental gas should be used, and how long it would take for the birds to die.

“These things all need to be researched and researched fast so that if [avian influenza] does come in the next couple of months, we can actually employ the emergency depopulation method by ventilation shutdown if it is the option that’s chosen with the government,” said Gregory. “A lot more needs to be done.”

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Dossier H5N2: Avian flu costing Iowa 8,500 jobs, $427 million

The 2015 avian influenza outbreak is costing Iowa nearly 8,500 jobs, some of which may never be replaced. That’s the finding from a new study, commissioned by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) and conducted by Decision Innovation Solutions (DIS).

The study shows in addition to job losses, the avian influenza outbreak will cost Iowa – the nation’s largest egg-producing state — nearly $427 million in lost additional value, more than half of which is income for Iowans. IFBF Director of Research and Commodity Services Dave Miller said the ripple effects of the lost jobs and revenue could last for up to three years, which will also impact egg and poultry prices, since it takes months to get the birds and the staff back in place.

“Egg prices are likely to peak out this summer, but the ‘elevated’ price for eggs is likely to linger for a minimum of 12 months and could last for two to three years. Recovery from this outbreak which devastated Iowa egg and poultry farms will not be swift,” said Miller.

“It’s really astounding that we could lose half of our poultry flock in a couple of months,” Miller said.

While the avian influenza outbreak was first discovered in a small, backyard chicken flock in another state, it cost Iowa the most damage, particularly in the northwest part of the state, since it has the highest population of birds and bird farms.

But, it’s not just poultry farms and poultry farm workers who are at a loss. As farms cut back, other Iowa businesses up and downstream were affected, including veterinarians, trucking companies, processors and lenders, the study shows. It also means nearly $427 million in value-added income was lost, because grain farmers and other businesses that sell their feed and other goods and services to poultry farms couldn’t continue to make and sell products and services like they did before the outbreak. Miller also said that many of the egg farm workers who lost their jobs are moving away to seek employment in other towns or other industries. That means replacing the labor pool won’t be easy.

“As for the future risk, the entire industry is reviewing all of their biosecurity protocols, but since about 16 percent of all wild water fowl are carriers of avian influenza, the potential for exposure is difficult to eliminate. Farms are working to minimize contact of their birds with wild birds, but it is very difficult to keep out sparrows, starlings, and everything that migrates over these barns,” said Miller.

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FLI Seminar on different response strategies: Stamping out or Neutralization

During this spring, American poultry producers lost birds by the millions, due to the High Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreaks on factory farms. USDA APHIS applied the stamping out strategy in an attempt to prevent the flu from spreading.
With stamping out as the highest priority of the response strategy, large numbers of responders are involved. With in average almost 1 million caged layers per farm in Iowa, there is hardly any room for a proper bio security training for these responders. And existing culling techniques had insufficient capacity, the authorities had to decide to apply drastic techniques like macerating live birds in order to take away the source of virus reproduction.

This strategy didn’t work; on the contrary. Instead of slowing down the spreading of the virus, the outbreaks continue to reoccur and have caused death and destruction in 15 USA states, killing almost 50 million birds on mote than 220infected commercial poultry farms, all within a very small time frame.

The question is whether the priority of the response strategy should be on neutralizing the transmission routes instead of on stamping out infections after they occur. All indicators currently point out into the direction that the industry should prioritize on environmental drivers: the connection between outbreaks and wild ducks; wind-mediated transmission; pre-contact probability; on-farm bio security; transmission via rodents etc.

Once the contribution of each transmission route has been determined, a revolutionary new response strategy can be developed based on the principle of neutralizing transmission routes. Neutralizing risks means that fully new techniques need to be developed, based on culling the animals without human – to – animal contact; integrating detergent application into the culling operations; combining culling & disposal into one activity. This new response strategy will be the main subject of the FLI Animal Welfare and Disease Control Seminar, organized at September 23, 2015 in Celle, Germany.

This international – English-language based – seminar is open for animal welfare specialists, veterinary specialists, and emergency response experts. The event takes place on the premises of FLI; starts at 9 AM; and closes at 4 PM, after the general discussion. In case you need more information or any assistance, please contact me on: 0046 761 731 779 or by mail on harm.kie@gmail.com.
You are very welcome to pass this invitation to all of your colleagues, who may also be interested in the seminar.  

Transmission routes
The routes of virus transmission risks can be split into three categories:

1. Introduction of the infection into the farm
2. Onward-spread between farms
3. Spreading during outbreaks

Introduction into the farm entails the target farm’s exposure through incoming contacts (human and fomite), through inputs such as feed and egg trays and through neighborhood-related risks such as air-borne contamination. Onward spreading and spreading during outbreaks can be through farm outputs (waste and non-waste), outgoing contacts (human and fomite) and contamination of the neighborhood (e.g., through emissions from the farm). Therefore, all day-to-day farm activities involving people and/or materials and/or equipment going in or out of the farm must be systematically analyzed.

Category 1: Introduction of the infection into the farm
During the last HPAI H5N8 epidemic in the Netherlands (2014), a total of 5 traditional poultry became infected by separate introductions, from outside the building to inside and in contact with the birds. The risk of introducing the virus to a farm can be determined from the farm’s neighborhood characteristics, its contact structure and its biosecurity practices .
Neighborhood characteristics include factors such as the presence of water bodies (accessed by wild birds), the density of poultry farms (together with the number and type of birds on these farms) and poultry-related businesses and the road network. The use of manure in the farm’s vicinity is also deemed to be risky.

In nature, disease-causing strains of avian influenza rarely spread far because the birds sicken and die before they can fly to spread it to others. However, in unnatural, intensive agricultural systems, pathogens are more easily able to evolve from mild strains to dangerous, highly pathogenic forms.

Category 2: Onward-spread between farms

In Iowa, cage layer housing conditions (confining in average more than 100,000 animals each) may have an effect on immunity, but there is no such thing as being more or less susceptible to avian influenza virus infection; poultry in outdoor facilities that have more opportunities to engage in natural behavior are not more resistant to AI infection.
Probably the housing conditions themselves (windowless sheds, intensely overcrowded, unsanitary, with stressful living conditions for the birds) make exposure to AI virus easier. In the Netherlands it has been shown that. layer farms with outdoor facilities and therefore more and better contact with wild water birds have a much higher probability of introduction of AI virus than traditional indoor layer farms (which do not have windowless sheds).

Nine out of 10 chickens used for egg production in the U.S. are confined in barren wire cages. Due to the extreme confinement, hens —highly intelligent and social animals — cannot engage in natural behaviors. High levels of stress can lead to weakened immunity, rendering animals much more susceptible to disease. This makes the average caged layer farm in Iowa a plausible hotbed for outbreaks of avian flu.
Still, it is unlikely that the confinement of hens in cages is the only explanation for the current outbreaks in the U.S, especially in Iowa. The industrial indoor housing in remote locations with large distances between farm locations has always been considered as the perfect protection against introduction of viruses to the farm. Considering the current pace of outbreaks over large areas, other factors might have caused the transmission between farms, like:

a) Transmission through contact structure between farms
b) Wind-mediated spread
c) Transmission via rodents and farm dogs


a) Transmission through contact structure between farms

Contacts between people, equipment and vehicles prior and during outbreak situations are critical to determine the possible source of infection of a farm . Hired laborers are known to play a big role in interconnecting farms.
The farm’s exposure through incoming contacts (human and fomite), through inputs such as feed and egg trays and through neighborhood-related risks such as air-borne contamination. The latter can be through farm outputs (waste and non-waste), outgoing contacts (human and fomite) and contamination of the neighborhood (e.g., through water- or airborne emissions from the farm).

b) Wind-mediated spread
In the study, published in 2012 by Rolf Ypma et al, a comparison between the transmission risk pattern predicted by the model and the pattern observed during the 2003 Netherlands epidemic reveals that the wind-borne route alone is insufficient to explain the observations although it could contribute substantially to the spread over short distance ranges, for example, explaining 24% of the transmission over distances up to 25 km.

c) Rodents, scavengers and farm dogs
Besides a study published in 2007 Taiwan, little research has been undertaken into the transmission routes via rodents, scavengers and farm dogs. There are strong indicators for the assumption that rodents, scavengers and farm dogs could play a role in distributing and reintroducing HPAI.

Recently Avian Influenza was found in a farm dog in South Korea. The dog had antigens for the highly pathogenic H5N8.
Since the first case of a dog being infected with the poultry virus in March 2014, there have been 55 dogs found with antibodies to the bird flu virus. This is the first time bird flu has been found in a dog in Korea through the detection of antigens.

Category 3: Spreading during outbreaks
The impact of the outbreak of the Avian Flu Epidemic outbreak in the Netherlands in 2003 shows that biosecurity during outbreaks is one of the main issues to address. An estimated 1.000 people, possibly more have been shown to carry antibodies to the H7N7 virus active at that time.

Although the risk of transmission of these viruses to humans was initially thought to be low, an outbreak investigation was launched to assess the extent of transmission of influenza A virus subtype H7N7 from chickens to humans.

Most H7 cases were detected in the cullers. The attack rate (proportion of persons at risk that developed symptoms) of conjunctivitis was highest in veterinarians, and both cullers and veterinarians had the highest estimated attack rate of confirmed A/H7N7 infections.
From all people that had been questioned, 453 people had health complaints—349 reported conjunctivitis, 90 had influenza-like illness, and 67 had other complaints. We detected A/H7 in conjunctival samples from 78 (26·4%) people with conjunctivitis only, in five (9·4%) with influenza-like illness and conjunctivitis, in two (5·4%) with influenza-like illness only, and in four (6%) who reported other symptoms.
Most positive samples had been collected within 5 days of symptom onset.

A/H7 infection was confirmed in three contacts (of 83 tested), one of whom developed influenza-like illness. In three of these exposed contacts an A/H7N7 infection was confirmed. All three were household contacts. The first contact was the 13-year-old daughter of a poultry worker, who developed conjunctivitis approximately 10 days after onset of symptoms in her father. Six people had influenza A/H3N2 infection.

FLI Seminar
During the FLI Animal Welfare and Disease Control Seminar, organized at September 23, 2015 in Celle, Germany, a group of international experts will give their vision on how the possible contribution of each transmission route could be determined and how a revolutionary new response strategy could be developed, based on the principle of neutralizing transmission routes.

A selection of key experts in their field will be presenting their vision, like:

• Dr. Michael Marahrens, host of the event, presenting the theme of the day: Animal disease control in Germany: past – present – future
• Dr. Marien Gerritzen (Wageningen UR) who will discuss Welfare aspects of methods for emergency killing of poultry during disease outbreaks
• Dr. F. J. Conraths (Institute of Epidemiology, FLI, Greifswald – Insel Riems) who will present the role of wild birds in the transmission of influenza virus infections to poultry
• Dr. Guus Koch (Wageningen UR), explaining the virus sequence network of an avian influenza epidemic reveals virus adaptation and unexpected trans-mission chains
• Dr. Elbers (Wageningen UR), presenting the virus transmission during the out-break in the Netherlands, 2003
• Dr. J. Harlizius (Chamber of Agriculture North Rhine – Westphalia), discussing Lessons learnt from the outbreak of classical swine fever in Germany, 2006
• Dr. A. vom Schloß (North Rhine – Westphalia Animal Diseases Fund), discussing the reorganization of the provisions for animal disease control in Germany
• Dr. I. Schwarzlose (Institute of Animal Welfare and Animal Husbandry, FLI, Celle), explaining Animal Welfare during disease outbreaks and control measures in the context of European and German legal framework
• Mr. W. Hung (Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST), explaining the relevance of OIE guidelines during the HPAI outbreak in Taiwan.
• AVT participates in the seminar, discussing how to implement animal welfare in Standard Operating Procedures during culling of animals.
You are more than welcome to participate in this English-spoken event. You can sign up by replying your name, including the name of your institute/company, to angelika.gaupp@fli.bund.de, or by fax: +49/5141-3846-117.

We wanted this seminar to be accessible for all, and for that reason, the participation fee is € 70 only. Unfortunately, the number of participants is limited, so in case you’re interested, please let us know and respond before August 31, 2015. After you signed up, you will receive your detailed payment instructions.

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Animal Welfare & Disease Control Seminar Sept 23, 2015: Introduction of Avian Influenza into the industry

During the FLI Animal Welfare and Disease Control Seminar, organized at September 23, 2015 in Celle, Germany, a group of experts will give their vision on how the possible contribution of each transmission route could be determined and how a revolutionary new response strategy could be developed, based on the principle of neutralizing transmission routes.

There are several factors, which contribute to the unique presentation of an avian influenza outbreak, like the relationship of this virus with wild waterfowl. The virus is highly pathogenic for chickens and turkeys but not pathogenic for waterfowl.
Since the virus in our current outbreak is not pathogenic for waterfowl, the vast flocks of healthy virus-infected migratory geese and ducks travel thousands of miles, entering into commercial poultry-producing regions while shedding tremendous quantities of infectious avian influenza virus in their feces.
You are more than welcome to participate in this English-spoken event. You can sign up by replying your name, including the name of your institute/company, to angelika.gaupp@fli.bund.de, or by fax: +49/5141-3846-117.

We wanted this seminar to be accessible for all, and for that reason, the participation fee is € 70 only. Unfortunately, the number of participants is limited, so in case you’re interested, please let us know and respond before August 31, 2015. After you signed up, you will receive your detailed payment instructions.

This international – English-language based – seminar is open for animal welfare specialists, veterinary specialists, and emergency response experts. The event takes place on the premises of FLI; starts at 9 AM; and closes at 4 PM, after the general discussion.

In case you need more information or any assistance, please contact me on: 0046 761 731 779 or by mail on harm.kie@gmail.com.

You are very welcome to pass this invitation to all of your colleagues, who may also be interested in the seminar.

I am looking forward to see you there.

Kind regards,
Harm Kiezebrink

Associate Research Fellow FLI

Federal Research Institute for Animal Health
Friedrich Loeffler Institute
Dörnbergstr. 25/27 | 29223 Celle
Tel: +49 5141 3846 130 | Fax: +49 5141 3846 117
http://www.fli.bund.de/

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Dossier AI: Clean-up costs for avian influenza outbreak estimated to top £10 per bird


Clean-up costs could run to as much as £10 per bird for egg producers whose layer units are hit by avian influenza.

 

An outbreak of bird flu at Staveleys Eggs near Preston in Lancashire has, once again, highlighted the devastation the disease can cause. Nearly 200,000 laying birds have been culled following confirmation of avian influenza, and strict restrictions have been put in place around the farm and the surrounding area in an attempt to prevent the virus spreading to other nearby poultry units.

The Staveleys are likely to face a huge bill to get this farm up and running again following the outbreak, although no official figures appear to exist to illustrate the likely cost of a post-bird flu clean-up operation on an egg production unit. The Ranger has spoken to a number of people with some knowledge of the clean-up process and the regulatory system in an attempt to gauge the likely financial impact of cleaning an infected site.

“Even on the smallest site, I would be very surprised if you got away with £100,000,” said Julian Sparrey of Livetec Systems. Livetec has a culling standby contract with the broiler industry that allows it to maintain equipment and technology to be used in the event of a notifiable disease outbreak. It was also involved in dealing with the AI outbreak in Hampshire in February this year. It managed the culling and clean up operation for Mackenzie Brothers, whose broiler breeder unit at Upham, near Winchester suffered an outbreak of a low path strain of the virus. Some 10,000 birds were culled.

The scale of the operation at Staveleys is much bigger. A total of 170,000 birds -120,000 cage and 50,000 free range – have been culled and the virus involved is a high path version. The cost of the clean-up at Preston is expected to be far higher than the bill for the clean-up in Hampshire. Julian Sparrey could not reveal the cost involved in the Upham outbreak, but on the infection near Preston he said, “I wouldn’t like to think what the cost will be there.”

Whilst the Government takes responsibility for the preliminary cleansing and disinfection of an affected site, the bill for the secondary cleansing and disinfection is borne by the farmer. The work involves not only cleaning out the sheds, but also the secure removal of the waste water from cleaning the sheds and the cost of dealing with the chicken litter.

A recent outbreak of bird flu involving a high path strain of the virus occurred in Yorkshire in November. A total of 6,000 birds were culled on a duck breeding unit at Nafferton, Driffield. The Ranger understands from other sources that the cost of the clean-up operation at Nafferton amounted to about £10 per bird.

Julian Sparrey agreed with our estimate that £10 per bird could well be a reasonable average to put on clean-up costs, although he said that the bill would vary depending on the circumstances at each individual farm. “It is very difficult to give a price per head because each farm will de different,” said Julian.

Cleaning out the sheds after avian influenza is, in itself, far more costly than a normal clean down. Steve Birchall told the Ranger that the cost of a single clean would be nearly 50 per cent more than usual because of the nature of the cleaning required and because of the restrictions placed on the workforce. “We have to be far more meticulous and the workers who are involved are not allowed to go to any other site for four or five days afterwards. That time has to be paid,” said Steve. For the secondary cleansing and disinfection the cleaning process has to be carried out twice, according to rules laid down by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Additional cleans may be required if APHA is not satisfied with the result.

The cleaning process can also be far more difficult in cage units – particularly in older buildings. The Ranger understands that some of the heaviest costs facing the Staveleys are for the cage units on the farm. There have been reports that the Staveleys may even be considering pulling some sheds down.

In addition to the bill for cleaning the sheds, there are other significant costs for any producer looking to recover from an outbreak. One of them is the cost of removing waste water. The waste water can only go to a site with the necessary environmental approvals. Julian Sparrey said that providing the necessary facilities to handle the water on site could cost £30,000 and finding a suitable treatment works to take the water nearby could also be a problem. “It is not always easy,” he said. “We were involved in one case where the nearest approved treatment works prepared to take the water was 400 miles away. There were a lot of tanker trips involved,” he said.

Once avian influenza has been confirmed on a farm, all movements to and from the site, as well as the clean-up operation, itself, are tightly controlled by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). At Staveleys, the culling of the birds began on July 11 and was completed on July 14. Subsequent working restrictions are placed upon any catchers who have been involved in operations in the infected sheds. Like the cleaners, they are not allowed on another site for four or five days afterwards. There are reports of some worried producers telling catchers to stay away from their farms for up to three weeks after working on an infected site.Preliminary cleansing and disinfection at Staveleys was completed on the evening of July 16. It is the secondary cleansing and disinfection that are the responsibility of the farmer.

However, although the farmer is responsible, everything has to be agreed by animal health teams. Julian Sparrey says that the procedures are very stringent. “An approved process for the cleaning has to be agreed with animal health,” he said. “The procedure that is to be used is agreed and written down. Once that is done it becomes a legal document and if you divert from that at all you could be fined £6,000 and face a month in jail. That is how strict it is.”

He said that any piece of equipment entering or leaving the infected site would have to be licensed. Julian said that if he was to be managing an on-farm operation he would probably have portable buildings on the site for workers involved in the clean-up. Facilities would include showers so that the workers could clean themselves down at the end of the day and avoid carrying any infection off the affected farm.

He said that, during a bird flu outbreak, animal health would be on site constantly, checking and overseeing everything that was being done. Everything that needed to be done would require approval and cleaning would be closely monitored. “They will go around wearing white gloves. They will wipe their hands across a surface and if there is the slightest dirt you will be told to do it again,” said Julian. “It is a nightmare for anyone who is unfortunate enough to be affected. Animal Health people are all over you all day.”

The removal of litter was also closely monitored, he said. The muck could be stored on the farm, itself, although it would have to be stacked and covered in a bio-secure way – probably on hard standing so that no infection could leach out into the environment. It would have to be stored for a minimum of 42 days and, if it was stored on site, the farm could not be declared clean whilst it was there. After the 42 days the litter could be disposed of normally, he said.

Another option – one which had been used by some affected farmers – was to find somewhere away from the farm where the muck could be stored for the 42 days. The Ranger understands that the owner of the Yorkshire duck farm hit by AI in November last year made arrangements for the muck to be stored on an airfield.

Another alternative, said Julian, was to send the muck for rendering. This could be done straight away if a suitable plant could be found that was willing to take the litter, although the muck would have to be moved by approved transport to avoid cross-contamination. If this was done, said Julian, only relatively small amounts of litter could be moved at one time. The litter did not render easily on its own and so had to be mixed with other materials. There was also the issue of washing down trucks at the rendering plant to ensure that the virus was not passed on. Compared with stacking the litter, rendering is a more expensive option, although it allows the waste to be moved off farm quickly.

Egg producers will, of course, hope that they never have to deal with the devastating effects of bird flu. Julian Sparrey says that, whilst most people will never be affected, everyone should have plans in place in case the worst should happen. “Know beforehand exactly what you will do if it happens. Is there somewhere you would be able to store the litter away from the farm if you needed to, for example? It is best to be prepared.”

Some producers have made preparations by investing in AI insurance. The Ranger understands that the Staveleys were insured against possible outbreak. However, it would appear that existing insurance policies may well have underestimated the high costs of secondary cleansing and disinfection. Recent outbreaks have shown that the clean-up costs account for a very large part of the bill for an AI outbreak.

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