APHIS sets reimbursement rates and announces bird flu vaccine protocols

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2016 - The Department of Agriculture has announced additional revisions to its highly pathogenic avian influenza response after the first outbreak of the disease in seven months was detected last week.

The changes were announced in a release from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). They are updates from an original response and preparedness plan originally release in September. The most recent version of the plan can be seen here.

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In the original plan, APHIS announced intentions to use a flat reimbursement rate for all depopulation and virus elimination activities. However, the agency clarified that “details were still being finalized” and today announced different rates will be allocated to producers based on the type of facility being depopulated and cleaned and number of birds therein.

Under the updated plan, turkeys will be reimbursed at a rate of $3.55 per bird, layers at $6.45 per bird, and broilers at $1.15 per bird. The broiler reimbursement is based on an industry estimate since no broiler facilities were hit by the 2015 outbreak that caused the depopulation of over 48 million birds. All told, APHIS said the rates are to cover the cost of barn preparation, dry cleaning, and heat disinfection.

Producers will have the option to do depopulation and cleaning work themselves or hire a contractor.

The news comes as the Humane Society of the United States speake out against a depopulation protocol used by Department of Agriculture officials in dealing with the most recent HPAI outbreak in Indiana. In a release, the animal rights organization condemned the use of the “ventilation shutdown” depopulation method that turns off fans in commercial poultry housing and uses increased heat to depopulate the birds inside.

HSUS Chief Veterinary Officer Michael Blackwell said there are “more humane ways to mass euthanize poultry than intentionally causing heat stroke, which is absolutely a horrible way to die.” He went on to say that shutting vents “should only be considered as an absolute last resort, and not the first response to an outbreak.” 

In an email to Agri-Pulse, an APHIS spokeswoman said the agency and other stakeholders made commitments to dealing with depopulation quickly, “ideally within 24 hours of a presumptive positive test result.” She said ventilation shutdown was listed as an approved method of depopulation in the previous response plan, and it - along with water-based foam - was used in the most recent depopulation incident.

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“These rapid depopulation goals were set to stop virus amplification and widespread transmission, which would result in far greater numbers of animals being destroyed,” the spokeswoman said. She added that about 400,000 birds were depopulated recently stemming from the detection of the H7N8 strain of HPAI in Indiana.

The updated plan also clarifies some new points on vaccination in the event that vaccines are administered. For starters, USDA will cover the cost of the vaccine, but not the costs of its administration. In the event that vaccination is used, there may also justification for not vaccinating birds with shorter life spans such as broilers. The updated plan also makes clear that surveillance testing for layer flocks would be through serological testing of vaccinates.

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