Accessibility links

Breaking News

U.S. Poultry Industry Works to Head Off Avian Flu

As outbreaks in Asia have shown, avian flu takes an enormous toll on the poultry industry. Birds not killed by the disease are culled to try to prevent it spreading. Bio-security is serious business on poultry farms in the United States. A national network -- including diagnostic laboratories and state agricultural services -- is in place to monitor and respond to an incident that could put animals or humans at risk. This report is narrated by Amy Katz.

Restricted, No admittance: That is the warning sign posted at the entrance to Jenny Rhodes' poultry farm.

Five times a year, 80,000 day-old chicks are delivered to her doorstep. She raises them in chicken houses on the property until they are ready for slaughter eight weeks later. Ms. Rhodes takes no chances with their health.

"We don't want anyone coming on our farm,” she told us. “You could bring something in to our chickens -- on your feet, in your nostrils, anywhere. So we have to be very careful."

Visitors with business on the farm must suit up in full-body bio-security garb… complete with cap, boots, gloves and facemask. Ms. Rhodes takes the same precautions, always changing from street to work clothes for farm chores.

"We don't want to take anything that we have into them to protect our investment. That is a big investment that I have."

Two thousand farm families raise poultry on the Delmarva Peninsula, where parts of the East Coast states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia come together. It is a $1.7 billion-a-year business, one of the country's top poultry producing regions. With increased awareness of the highly infectious bird flu in Asia, Delmarva growers want to assure the American public that their poultry is safe.

The H5N1 strain of avian influenza, which has led to the slaughter of 140 million birds, has not reached the United States. Even so, Maryland state veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus says health surveillance has been stepped up across the country.

"We're in the process right now on the Delmarva Peninsula of increasing our flock surveillance from about 40 percent of the flocks going to slaughter to 100 percent of all flocks being tested for avian influenzas of pretty much any kind,” said Dr. Hohenhaus, “so that we are very confident when a flock goes to slaughter and ultimately goes to market, it does not have any avian influenza in any way."

If any virus emerges in their birds, chicken growers have an emergency plan. Bill Satterfield is a poultry trade group executive. "The plans call for the use of bio-security equipment, respirators, health monitoring before the people go in the houses; health monitoring after they leave for several weeks to make sure they did not pick up any virus; the use of antibiotics, the use of anti-viral drugs, and just good bio-security practices."

Within a day of diagnosis, all birds on the affected farm would be slaughtered and composted, the property quarantined and neighboring farms put under intensive surveillance.

Mr. Satterfield says, "Our members are not panicking or going off the deep end because of this thing in Asia."

Officials are confident that the bio-security measures in place can help prevent, control and respond to any health incident, large or small.