Although highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has not been found in Pennsylvania as of yet, that does not mean that the state isn’t taking steps to prevent a negative economic impact if an outbreak were to occur. Since 220 flocks have been destroyed and about 50 million birds were killed due to avian influenza nationwide, planning is crucial to protect Pennsylvania’s economy. The poultry industry in Pennsylvania is a $13 billion industry. Governor Wolf approved $3.5 million to be used by the Department of Agriculture to be able to properly respond to any avian influenza outbreak.
Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding made this statement about the monetary preparedness actions Pennsylvania is taking:
“We want to be clear that avian influenza has not been found in our state, but we need to plan and act as if it could at any moment, which is a distinct possibility… When this virus hit in 1983 and 1984, 17 million birds were lost. That equated to a $65 million negative impact to our state’s economy. We are doing everything possible to avoid that kind of devastation – or worse – with this outbreak…. What we have learned from other states, such as Iowa and Minnesota, is that acting quickly is imperative to containing the virus and minimizing its spread… That’s why having the resources the governor has made available is so critical; it gives us the funding we need to continue planning, continue putting supplies and personnel in place, and continue our work to protect the tens of thousands of Pennsylvania families who depend on our poultry industry for their livelihood.”
In working with industry members and academic community representatives, the Department of Agriculture has been preparing for a potential avian influenza threat. The following actions have been taken by the department beginning in February:
- Governor Wolf, legislators, and cabinet members were briefed on the potential avian influenza threat and the necessary steps they would need to take if it was found in Pennsylvania.
- A high-path AI task force was assembled with the industry and academic community in order to collaborate on response and recovery planning.
- An interstate quarantine order was issued and it requires all poultry that is live bird market bound, as well as eggs bound for commercial breaking operations in Pennsylvania, to undergo 72 hours of testing.
- Tabletop exercises were conducted so scenarios could be practiced and the department and industry stakeholders could become aware of what response and recovery activities would need to happen if an outbreak occurs in Pennsylvania.
- Response protocols were established with USDA APHIS and biosecurity measures were discussed for the industry and responders. Protocols for the depopulation and disposal of dead birds and federal indemnification were put in place. Protocol for managing the movement of poultry and poultry products to/from quarantine zones was established.
- All avian shows at 2015 county fairs and at the 2016 Pennsylvania Farm Show were suspended.
- A meeting was held with the following departments in order to discuss what would be needed of them in the event of a large outbreak: the the Pennsylvania Management Agency, the Air National Guard, the Game Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Veterinary Services and Wildlife Services, the State Police, and the departments of General Services (DGS) and Environmental Protection.
Additionally, the Department of Agriculture is working with the DGS in order to figure out what supplies and skill sets will be needed to respond to an avian influenza outbreak. Current employees of the commonwealth or statewide staff augmentation contracts could be included in that need. State officials are considering other options to make sure that the resources are ready to use if the need arises.
Redding also commented on how “lucky” Pennsylvania has been so far but that there is still a real need for preparedness, just in case. “We have been fortunate enough to dodge this virus so far, but when birds begin migrating again this fall, we can’t say with certainty that we will continue to be so lucky… That is why it is imperative that measures be put into place now to protect our state’s poultry industry,” Redding said.
Redding also emphasized that the Department of Agricultre needs to also look at the recovery phase aspect of an avian influenza outbreak. That phase alone could take months or even years. Those involved in the poultry industry need to think about flock management if an outbreak does occur and the time that would be lost before the flock could begin populating again.
Since December, the avian influenza has been spreading accross the United State from west to east. It has mainly come from migratory birds coming from the Pacific flyway, the Central flyway, and the Mississippi flyway. Though the Atlantic flyway has not had any avian influenza carrying birds, this particular flyway overlies Pennsylvania and intersects with the Mississippi flyway.
You can learn more about the efforts being taken to safeguard Pennsylvania in the event of an avian influenza outbreak at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture website which is at www.agriculture.state.pa.us. Click on the “Avian Influenza” banner located at the top of the page.