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Agricultural politicians in Georgia argue for new definition of poultry

Agricultural politicians in Georgia argue for new definition of poultry
Agricultural politicians in Georgia argue for new definition of poultry

When the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is confirmed in a bird population defined by the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) as poultry, it generally means trade restrictions for the state or a smaller region within the state.

But WOAH’s definition of poultry is too broad, says the agriculture commissioner of the largest broiler-producing state in the US

Georgia had no flocks of what most people would consider commercial poultry infected with HPAI during the 2022-24 outbreak. Yet a single outbreak in a commercial waterfowl flock raised for release in 2023 cost the state dearly.

Tyler Harper, Georgia Secretary of Agriculture, estimates that trade restrictions imposed because these waterfowl were classified as commercial poultry by the WOAH have cost Georgia poultry producers $300 million.

“WOAH is the leading state for poultry production and its overly broad definition of poultry has negatively impacted Georgia poultry producers and the thousands of Georgians who have made their living in our poultry industry for too long,” Harper said in a press release.

“Put simply, WOAH’s current position that detection of HPAI in birds raised for release in hunting reserves or in a backyard poultry flock should elicit the same response as detection in a commercial operation defies logic.”

Harper is not the first state official to push for a new WOAH definition for poultry. In fact, in his press release he referenced a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives from a number of states who did just that in May.

In response, 58 federal lawmakers sent letters to the director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Dr. Michael Watson, urging the agency to work to ensure that WOAH adopts the same definition of poultry that was unanimously approved by the United States Animal Health Association.

Signatories of the Georgia letter included Representatives Andrew Clyde, Sanford Bishop, Rick Allen, Buddy Carter, Mike Collins, Drew Ferguson, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Barry Loudermilk, Lucy McBeth, Rick McCormick, Austin Scott and David Scott.

Why a new definition makes sense

I completely agree with Harpers and those who previously signed this letter. A new definition is needed, and the economic loss in Georgia is just one of the reasons. Every time a similar finding is identified in a flock that fits WOAH’s description of poultry but most other people’s definition, an export ban is imposed for that geographic area. And it also puts poultry importers in the undesirable position of having to source poultry from other regions or markets.

Of course, if backyard poultry or commercial wildfowl are infected with HPAI, they must be decimated and disinfected, along with other routine biosecurity measures. But that doesn’t mean that commercial poultry is any less safe by most people’s definitions.

And that’s largely due to the biosecurity measures used in Georgia and other poultry producing states.

“In Georgia and across the country, backyard poultry and birds raised for release frequently interact with wild birds that may be carrying the HPAI virus. This puts them at greater risk of contracting HPAI than commercially raised poultry that follow strict biosecurity protocols to protect their flocks,” said Georgia State Veterinarian Janemarie Hennebelle.

“The effectiveness of strict biosecurity protocols speaks for itself, as only 30,000 birds in Georgia have been affected by the ongoing H5N1 outbreak that has affected more than 90 million birds nationwide. I firmly believe that poultry exports in Georgia can and should continue unhindered if the virus is detected in a backyard flock or in birds raised for release, and I fully support these efforts.”

Check out our ongoing coverage of the global bird flu situation.

For more information on HPAI cases in commercial poultry flocks in the United States, Mexico and Canada, see the interactive map at WATTPoultry.com.

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