“…out of the millions and millions of birds that have been infected and destroyed, two thirds of those birds were from Iowa… I just want to reemphasize it’s not only devastating for these producers, but their employees, those employees’ families, and the communities that are supported by these producers.” 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) questioned the panel at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) hearing entitled, “Stopping an Avian Influenza Threat to Animal and Public Health” on the need for a plan to prevent a future outbreak of such magnitude. The Iowa Senator also highlighted the devastating impact of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) on Iowa poultry farmers, producers, and the surrounding communities. 

Those testifying before HSGAC included Dr. John Clifford, Deputy Administrator of the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); Dr. Anne Schuchat, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Mr. Chris Currie, Director of Homeland Security and Justice within the U.S. Government Accountability Office; Dr. Jack Gelb, Director of the Avian Biosciences Center at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; and Mr. Scott Schneider, President of The Wisconsin Poultry and Egg Association and Owner of Nature Link Farm.

The HSGAC hearing comes on the heels of yesterday’s Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee hearing entitled, “Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: The Impact on the U.S. Poultry Sector and Protecting U.S. Poultry Flocks”.

Click here or on the image below to watch.

 

TRANSCRIPT

SENATOR ERNST: Thank you Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member Carper, and to our witnesses today, thanks so much. I spent some time with Dr. Clifford yesterday as we met in the Agriculture Committee and discussed a number of these issues as well. I do want to recognize we do have a turkey producer from Iowa in our audience today, Mr. Moline thanks for joining us again today, good to have you here. Iowa was hit extremely hard. If you look, a number of us here up at the – I have a little map here, and you can’t really see Iowa too well. Because out of the millions and millions of birds that have been infected and destroyed, two thirds of those birds were from Iowa. So our poultry, our turkeys, have been infected quite heavily. And so this has been a concern for us for a number of months now. And the economic impact to Iowa will be about $1 billion, very significant. So, Mr. Schneider, I sympathize with you very much. A number of our producers have gone through the exact same thing. I just want to reemphasize it’s not only devastating for these producers, but their employees, those employees’ families, and the communities that are supported by these producers, so thank you for being here today and sharing your story. I appreciate that very much. Dr. Clifford, I would like to go back and visit a little bit more about the vaccination process, we talked about it a little bit yesterday. Is the USDA working on the vaccination process, if you could explain a little bit about the process, where we are with that. I know a number of groups will support vaccinations, some will not. What we want to do is ensure that we are working with trade partners as well. So if you could talk about our trade partners, that would be very helpful. 

DR. CLIFFORD: Thank you Senator Ernst. Yes, what we’re doing is developing actually a vaccine bank. We intend to go out for a request for proposals soon, to ask companies to bid on that. We have several companies that are in the process of developing vaccines. And, we believe that we will have a vaccine bank available sometime this fall, it may be late fall, depending upon the companies’ ability to get that vaccine manufactured. It’s a tool in the toolbox that, as Dr. Gelb said, that we have to use if we decide it’s the right thing to do in a particular situation. So we’re working on those protocols and we’ll be reaching out this summer to our trading partners to encourage our trading partners under these conditions to not shut off trade.  And if we are successful, than that will help us to be able to utilize that one tool, because right now if we use that tool in our toolbox, they will shut us off and we will lose potentially up to $3 or $4 billion additionally in trade. And they’re not talking about a partial shutoff; they’re talking about an entire country shutoff. So, that’s why we have the different  - I understand the turkeys and the turkey production, and the use and want to use those – I can understand the layers and especially outdoor or cage free birds, so you’ve got these different groups from the broilers to the genetics groups that you don’t want it used because they impact trade. And we’re trying to balance this, we’re trying to get our trading partners to support its use in a limited way, where it makes sense. An example of use would be in, for example, turkey flocks in Minnesota, that have a very close proximity to a lot of lakes and a lot of potential wild waterfowl. 

SENATOR ERNST: Very good, no I appreciate that very much. And Dr. Gelb, you had mentioned that of course the growers, there is an indemnity fund, but some of the growers are not seeing the funds flowing their direction. Do you know of any mechanism where we would be able to follow those dollars and find out – we do want to make sure that if the growers are entitled to a portion of that indemnity payment that they are receiving that. Do you know of any mechanism that we might be able to engage for follow-up? 

DR. GELB: Yes, this is a little bit out of my area, but working with our local trade association, the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc., and speaking with William Satterfield, the Director of that organization, I think he, for example could be a better – could give a better answer on this, but my understanding is – I indicated earlier that indemnities for contract growers, and there are many contract growers in this country where they don’t own the birds, they provide the facilities, the heat, the ventilation basically to grow them, but the birds themselves belong to a poultry company. Frequently, those indemnities they just go to the poultry company. Some of them will, some of the companies will then share some of the indemnity funds, with the contract grower. So this is kind of a contract grower issue, and I mentioned also the interest and current proceedings now in thinking about moving forward with an insurance program that growers could purchase where those funds would go directly to them rather than to the company. So, yeah, Senator you bring up an excellent question and I’m not sure I’m really the best one to address it. 

SENATOR ERNST: Thank you, well I think – thank you for raising the issue. And just one parting point, and I know Mr. Currie you work with Emergency Management. And as we discussed yesterday in the Agricultural Committee, Iowa did have plans in place should this happen. We had a number of landfills that were willing to accept the carcasses of the birds after they were virus free. But I tell you, even the best laid plans can go awry, because we had really kind of an uprising amongst the people along those landfills and around those routes that said how do we know that our birds won’t be hit by this virus by moving the birds to these landfills. So it was a great concern with the people of Iowa that we weren’t affecting additional farms out there. So even the best laid plans cannot go the way they intended.  Thank you very much to our panel for being here today, we appreciate it. Thank you Chairman and Ranking Member. 

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