WASHINGTON, March 25, 2015 – Recent bird flu-related bans on U.S poultry are affecting about 14 percent of the country’s chicken and turkey exports, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified at a Senate hearing last week.

Still, Robert Johansson, USDA’s acting chief economist, told lawmakers U.S. producers will probably shift to other markets in an effort to survive the onslaught of countries restricting or outright banning their products.

“If some countries do make that more difficult, then we have other outlets for those goods,” Johansson assured Senate Ag appropriators. U.S. poultry exports reached a near record $5.5 billion in 2014.

About 34 countries have issued regional bans on poultry imported from a specific state or county where high-pathogenic avian flu has been detected, Vilsack told lawmakers. In contrast, China, including Hong Kong, as well as South Korea, are among the 11 or 12 countries that have banned the importation of all poultry produced anywhere in the U.S.

Vilsack said those indiscriminate, countrywide bans on U.S. poultry imports aren’t fair – they should be regionalized, he said, in adherence to the standards of the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

Jim Sumner, president of the USA Chicken and Egg Export Council, said that the restrictions on U.S. poultry have already affected trade and the effects would likely continue. China and South Korea’s total bans in particular will be “devastating to our industry” he said, because those countries support specialty markets for chicken feet and jumbo legs. Sumner called the outright bans on U.S. poultry “totally irresponsible.”

But, as Vilsack and Johansson said, the latest export numbers don’t indicate a significant trend just yet.

According to the Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook released on March 16, broiler exports were down 12.4 percent in January compared to a year earlier. At the same time, turkey exports were up 2.4 percent, while egg and egg product exports rose 26 percent.

Vilsack said that his department is communicating with countries with total bans “to try to put folks on notice that the most appropriate way (to issue import prohibitions) is to regionalize (them).” That approach, however, “obviously requires them to be reasonable, which, in some cases, is not easy to attain,” he added.

Sumner said the USDA is doing a tremendous job with their limited resources, but “they (USDA) don’t have adequate staff to really reach out to all of these countries, to provide them the assurances they need to either lift or further reduce these bans to a smaller area.”

Cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) have been detected in eight U.S. states since the first case was confirmed, in Oregon, in mid-December. The first incidence in a commercial flock was detected in Stanislaus County, California, among turkeys, in late January. Other cases have been found in Washington, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas, the home of Tyson Foods, the biggest U.S. poultry producer.

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