Yesterday’s Senate Subcommittee hearing on the USDA’s avian flu response to date, and their plans to deal with the expected return of the virus in the fall - ran just about 2 1/2 hours - with two panels of experts providing testimony and answering the committee’s questions.
You’ll find links to the video and prepared testimonies of the witnesses below.
The two government witnesses (Dr. John Clifford from APHIS & Dr. David Swayne from the ARS) are both familiar names to readers of this blog, particularly Dr. Swayne whose work in poultry disease research (see here, here, here for just a few examples) has been cited often.
The second panel, which came on roughly 90 minutes into the hearing, consisted of 5 stakeholders from the private sector, including farm owners, industry representatives, and a farm economist. While obviously grateful for the USDA’s assistance during this crisis, they were not without their criticisms.
Although the issues discussed ran the gamut from increased biosecurity on farms to reduced paperwork for farmers and streamlining the depopulation and disposal processes - the two biggest areas of contention between the panels were over the amount of compensation being provided by the government for birds destroyed, and the advisability of using poultry vaccines to control these avian viruses.
Last June (see APHIS: Additional Criteria Must Be Met Before HPAI Poultry Vaccines Can Be Approved ) the USDA's APHIS released a statement indicating that current poultry vaccines are only 60% effective in protecting flocks, their use would greatly impact poultry exports - and that while research into the vaccine option will continue - additional criteria must be met before their use can be authorized.
Previously (see The HPAI Poultry Vaccine Dilemma), we’ve looked at some of the potential downsides to using AI vaccines in this country, and at some of the unintended consequences of vaccine use in places like China and Egypt over the past 10 years.
First the links to the video and individual testimonies (all well worth reading, but Dr. Swayne’s assessment of vaccine development is of particular interest), after which I’ll return with a wrap up.
- Dr. John Clifford
Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Washington , DC
- Adobe Acrobat Document Dr. Clifford's Testimony
- Dr. David Swayne
Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Athens , GA
- Adobe Acrobat Document Dr. Swayne's Testimony
- Mr. James R. Dean
United Egg Producers
Sioux Center , IA
- Adobe Acrobat Document Mr. Dean's Testimony
- Mr. Ken Klippen
National Association of Egg Farmers
Collegeville , PA
- Adobe Acrobat Document Mr. Klippen's Testimony
- Mr. Brad R. Moline
Moline Farms LLC
Manson , IA
- Adobe Acrobat Document Mr. Moline's Testimony
- Mr. Rob Knecht
President, Vice President of Operations
Michigan Allied Poultry Industries and Konos, Inc.
Martin , MI
- Adobe Acrobat Document Mr. Knecht's Testimony
- Dr. Thomas Elam
Carmel , IN
- Adobe Acrobat Document Dr. Elam's Testimony
Although Dr. Clifford indicated in his oral testimony that the USDA was preparing for a `worst-case’ return of the virus this fall, with as many as 500 farms across 20 states affected, what really comes down the pike this winter is anyone’s guess.
Influenza viruses invariably change over time – and so what we get this fall may – or may not – be a repeat of last spring.
For now, the North American versions of HPAI H5 haven’t posed a human health threat, and perhaps they never will.
There are, however, a growing number of H5, H7 and H10 avian viruses circulating in China with a far less benign track record, and the possibility exists that one or more of these could someday find their way to North America or Europe the same way that H5N8 has.
Somewhat presciently, in early November of last year the FAO-EMPRES Report On The Emergence And Threat Of H5N6 looked at H5N6 - along with a short list of other newly emerged HPAI H5 viruses (including H5N8 & H5N3) - and warned:
The possibility exists that wild birds could become infected and spread these viruses to other countries or continents. Migratory birds, which have played a key role in the introduction of H5N1 to Europe and Africa [Kilpatrick et al, 2006] and of H5N8 to the Republic of Korea [Jeong et al, 2014], could spread the viruses to other countries or continents.
Just three weeks later it was announced that HPAI H5 had arrived in British Columbia.Since then it has spread across half the United States, inflicting billions of dollars of losses on the poultry industry. H5N8 also showed up in Europe and the UK over the winter, and H5N1 has made a major resurgence around the globe this year (see WHO: H5 Currently The Most Obvious Avian Flu Threat).
Whether this is the `new normal’, or a brief aberration, remains to be seen.
But for now, the expectation is that this fall and winter are going to be challenging times on the avian flu front, both here in North America and around the world.