WASHINGTON, July 30, 2015 – The Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is furthering its efforts on a vaccination to better prevent the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), but poultry exports could dramatically drop as a result.
At a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture, John Clifford, APHIS deputy administrator for veterinary services, reiterated that vaccination is by no means a silver bullet to stop the spread of HPAI, but it could prove to be a useful tool to address the disease. APHIS announced in June that presently available vaccines must meet ‘additional criteria’ before the agency could authorize emergency use, but in Clifford’s opening statement he said that if vaccines were used, they would be an “additional tool in our eradication efforts and will be targeted in the states and poultry sectors where they can be most effective.”
David Swayne, laboratory director of the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, told subcommittee members that his laboratory has developed a vaccine “that can completely prevent mortality in chickens” against a modified strain of the virus. However, they are still waiting on test results for turkeys and plan to do more extensive field testing on both species.
Clifford said trade constraints continue to be an issue with the potential use of a vaccine. He said APHIS has been in conversation with trading partners who said that if U.S. poultry producers began using a vaccine, exports to that country would be stalled while a risk assessment was conducted, a process that could take several months. If the risk assessment found the vaccine to be acceptable to other countries, trade could be reopened, but Clifford said there is the potential for $3-4 billion in lost exports because of the use of a vaccine.
While it may be easy to ask other countries not to stop imports because of HPAI vaccination, Clifford said in doing so, the U.S. would be asking foreign governments to change procedures still on the books in the U.S. He said regulations – which he felt were outdated – currently don’t allow for importation of poultry products, eggs, or live animals from countries vaccinating for HPAI. After the hearing, House Ag Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told reporters that there is a potential for certain states - like his native Minnesota - to opt to vaccinate and then focus on keeping their production only for domestic consumption.
Peterson doesn’t think an insurance program for an animal health situation like HPAI would be necessary, saying that he thinks the current indemnification system is sufficient. He told reporters after the hearing that adding “disease” as a covered loss under the Livestock Disaster Program was considered during farm bill deliberations, but concerns about funding the added expenditure prevented it. The indemnity payments, he said, should be able to keep flowing in the likely event that the disease reappears in the fall.
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