Culling a flock of layer or broiler parent stock due to Avian Influenza can cost producers anywhere from $400,000 to $650,000 in depopulation, restocking and productivity losses. Within the U.S., the ongoing outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), continues to pose a threat for important economic losses to the poultry industry. Therefore, it is more important than ever for poultry producers to tighten biosecurity and avian influenza prevention efforts.
Avian Influenza Prevention Through Effective On-Farm Biosecurity
Industry organizations and regulatory bodies worldwide have released biosecurity guidelines for Avian Influenza prevention. For example, in Europe, the EFSA recommends that biosecurity measures eliminate direct bird to wildlife contact and prevent avian influenza in poultry through secondary fomites such as feed. Within the U.S., industry organizations such as the National Turkey Federation and National Chicken Council refer to the USDA’s Defend the Flock biosecurity program, which has dedicated an entire checklist to safely handling feed within operations. In general, the standard biosecurity programs employed for avian influenza prevention all include:
- Controlling visitor access and farm foot traffic
- Prevent commercial bird interaction with wild/domestic fowl
- Sanitation procedures for farm personnel
- Avoid mixed-use of farm equipment
- Deploy pest control and wild bird management procedures
- Mark the farm as a biosecure zone
- Ensure that employees receive adequate biosecurity training
- Keep feed and water sources covered to avoid contaminants and limit wildfowl and pest attraction
In many industry biosecurity guidelines, feed is listed as a transmission concern for avian influenza in poultry. However, the concern is often limited to keeping feed stored securely to prevent contamination. Feed accounts for 70% of the poultry production investment, and feed storage should always be secure and off-ground to prevent waste or utilization by pests. However, protecting operations from feed contamination is more complex than keeping feed covered, dry and away from wildlife. Ingredients are sourced and transported worldwide and used in finished feed formulations. Since all birds have to eat to grow, feed plays a central and significant role in transmitting pathogens within poultry production.
Is Feed Crucial to Avian Influenza Prevention?
After facing an industry loss of 50 million birds during the 2014-2015 U.S. avian influenza (A.I.) outbreak, the USDA conducted a risk assessment evaluating transmission routes for avian influenza. The published report outlined that feed can be a feasible fomite for avian influenza under the right circumstances. Feed was further confirmed as a fomite for avian influenza by independent researcher Dr. Haroldo Toro from Auburn University in 2016. Dr. Toro’s trials found that avian influenza can survive in a feed matrix but survives best when feed is simultaneously contaminated with organic matter. Wild birds can access feed and feed ingredients during storage or transport, heightening the HPAI transmission risk, as droppings can spread avian influenza virus within commercial poultry feed. Therefore, fecal contamination of an available food source, such as a pile of corn destined for a feed mill, is a viable virus transmission route. Another important finding from Dr. Toro’s work was that feed sanitation is an effective tool against virus transmission. The two feed sanitizers tested against avian influenza in these trials were able to inactivate the virus in feed and protect it against viral recontamination.
Avian influenza transmission can occur via feed, and feed remains an essential part of a holistic on-farm biosecurity program. For more information on feed as a fomite for avian influenza, or to learn more about how feed sanitation can help prevent avian influenza in poultry, contact us.