Gainesville Times: Efforts to stop avian influenza are vital to state's poultry industry

It is fitting that the “Eat Mor Chikin” slogan was developed by Georgia’s chicken sandwich giant.

Poultry production pumps more than $28 billion dollars into our state’s economy annually, making Georgia the top broiler-producing state in the country. In fact, if the Peach State were a country, it would rank seventh in broiler production only behind the United States, China, Brazil, India, Russia and Mexico.

There is no denying the important role the poultry industry plays in our state’s economy, which is why it is imperative our producers take the threat of infectious diseases like avian influenza very seriously.

Avian influenza occurs naturally in migratory waterfowl and is spread through direct contact with fluids from infected birds. The United States Department of Agriculture categorizes avian influenza by threat level: low-pathogenic avian influenza, which may only cause mild illness in domestic birds, and highly-pathogenic avian influenza, which causes severe disease and high mortality among domestic birds.

While avian influenza has not been contracted in Georgia, state partners first made initial preparations in 2004 with the development of a response plan. This plan is reviewed and tested by tabletop and field training exercises multiple times a year.

The most recent American outbreak of highly-pathogenic avian influenza was found last December and traced to European migratory waterfowl last fall. Since the discovery of this highly-pathogenic case, 21 states have been affected by outbreaks with the loss of millions of chickens and turkeys. If something similar were to occur in Georgia, it could greatly impact our economy.

Fortunately, Georgia is a leader in agriculture innovation, affording our poultry farmers with cutting-edge research and preventative options. Leading this effort is Dr. David Swayne, a renowned avian influenza expert and Director of the National Poultry Research Center in Athens.

Prior to the start of this year’s migratory season, I invited Dr. Swayne to speak to the Senate Agriculture Committee about the research he is working on to prepare Southeastern farmers for potential outbreaks.

Our state’s poultry community is working closely with experts like Dr. Swayne, as well as our state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, the Georgia Poultry Federation and the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network to prevent the spread of avian influenza. In fact, every commercial flock raised in Georgia is tested prior to processing at GPLN — that’s about 300,000 birds a year.

Undoubtedly, preventing contact with the disease is the most important step in preventing an outbreak, and Georgia farmers are working hard to keep their flocks healthy by adopting biosecurity practices and participating in continuing education programs outlined by the USDA and industry partners.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture, GPLN and GPF have all worked hard to present biosecurity information and best practices information to growers, both commercial and backyard. Care has also been taken to address other aspects of the poultry world, such as repairmen, feed companies, utility companies, lenders, etc.

In addition, the industry’s “All In or All Gone” partnership has joined with 11 states to share information and updates about potential avian influenza outbreaks.

Georgia’s thorough response plan has been coordinated with GDA, GPLN and USDA and includes all facets of a potential response — from communication of an initial infection to the disposal of broilers.

Overall, these preparedness efforts have helped safeguard Georgia’s poultry industry. While we prepare for the worst-case scenario, we are fortunate Commissioner Black and our poultry community are taking every preventative measure possible to prevent and if necessary, stop an outbreak so Georgia can keep producing — and eating — more chicken.

David Perdue is the junior senator from Georgia and serves on the Senate Committees on Agriculture, the Budget, Foreign Relations, Judiciary, and Special Committee on Aging. Contact him at 383 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510, 202-224-3521; 191 Peachtree St. NE, Suite 3250, Atlanta 30303, 404-865-0087, fax 404-865-0311; perdue.senate.gov.

By:  Senator David Perdue
Source: Gainesville Times