Q&A with the NC State Vet on Avian Influenza

Background

Since December 2014, a number of chicken and turkey flocks, both pastured and conventional, in the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest were infected with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). HPAI is a virus that infects fowl, killing entire flocks in a matter of days. The virus is transmitted by migrating waterfowl, meaning that farms may be infected seasonally during times of bird migration.

Wild bird migration patterns make it likely that infected birds will be traveling through the Carolinas between September and January. Due to the seasonal and severity of the risk to poultry growers, North Carolina has taken steps to reduce the risk to the state’s poultry industry. CFSA has been paying close attention to the State’s response, with particular attention to how the response could impact organic poultry operations, pastured poultry operations, and backyard flocks.

Current Situation

August 24, 2015

North Carolina law gives the State Veterinarian, in consultation with the Commissioner of Agriculture and the Governor, responsibility for determining that an imminent threat of contagious animal disease exists. Once that determination is reached, the State Veterinarian has to develop and implement a response to the threat.

On July 1, the State Veterinarian, by way of the Commissioner of Agriculture, wrote to the Governor asking for his approval of emergency measures to combat the imminent threat of HPAI. On July 2, the Governor approved the request. You may view the letter as approved by the Governor, along with other information and resources about HPAI here.

The Governor’s approval triggers a section of North Carolina law that confers a set of powers on the North Carolina Department of Agriculture that it does not usually have. CFSA’s Policy Team reviewed the relevant law, which may be found at Part 9 of Section 106, Article 34 of the North Carolina General Statutes.

We also met with the State Veterinarian to learn more about the specific policies and procedures that NCDA will implement in the face of HPAI, with particular attention paid to the impact of HPAI on pastured, organic and backyard poultry flocks. The information CFSA received from the State Veterinarian is below, presented in a question and answer format. We offer you our meeting notes in hopes that they help you understand how the state’s HPAI response will affect poultry owners, from backyard homesteaders with a few hens to farmers raising poultry on a commercial scale. The answers presented below are not direct quotes from the State Veterinarian or the NCDA, and do not represent their legal position.

These Q&A’s synthesize the information we have learned during our meeting with Dr. Meckes’ office, along with other sources. ,This information is based on the current state of the virus. If the virus mutates, or conditions are otherwise altered, NCDA’s policies and procedures are be subject to change.

Take Action

August 24, 2015

Review and implement reasonable biosecurity measures

CFSA has compiled resources and biosecurity suggestions for pastured-poultry owners from the USDA, NCDA, Extension Agents, and other experts. 

Know who to call

CFSA members should feel free to contact our Policy Director, Rochelle Sparko with questions about government response to HPAI in the Carolinas. We encourage poultry owners to contact Rochelle if their flocks test positive for HPAI; if they are impacted by the establishment of a control or surveillance zone around an infected farm; or have encounters with state or federal officials regarding flock registration, biosecurity, or other aspects of the government’s HPAI response. This information will allows CFSA staff to communicate problems and concerns with implementation of HPAI policies to relevant state and USDA officials.

However, please be aware that neither Rochelle nor anyone at CFSA can provide legal advice. If you need help understanding how the law applies to your particular situation, please contact a practicing lawyer.

 
Review notes from CFSA’s Q&A with the State Veterinarian

REGISTRATION

Q. The North Carolina State Veterinarian has issued an order requiring all poultry operations, including backyard flocks, to register with the state Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA). What exactly does it mean that registration is mandatory? How will registration be enforced? Will enforcement protocols change depending on the extent of any outbreak?

A. Registration is effectively voluntary at this time. NCDA states that registration is intended to aid in quick communication to all flock owners in proximity to any HPAI outbreak. Currently, there are no penalties for failure to register birds, and in the absence of an active outbreak NCDA is not patrolling for flocks that have not been registered. However, in the event of an outbreak, there will be surveillance in the 3 km Control Zone around any affected farm as well as in a 7 km Buffer-Surveillance Zone surrounding the Control Zone; NCDA will notify known poultry operations in the control and surveillance zones of the outbreak, and will seek to identify any unregistered flocks and monitor them for HPAI.

Q. CFSA members are concerned about the state’s mandatory registration of poultry. What will be done with any information submitted by a farm or backyard poultry owner? Will it be/could it be shared with the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) or other agencies of the federal government, municipal government, and/or any other public or private entities? Under what circumstances will this information be shared? Will the information be shared with city and/or county officials in communities where flock ownership requires a permit?  Will registration be done only by owners, or will government employees (like Cooperative Extension agents) be pressured to register flocks they know about through their work with farmers and backyard enthusiasts?

A. NCDA states that it will not release any information in the animal health database to any other public or private entity except in the case of an active outbreak of HPAI at a registered premises. NCDA is not pressing any entities, such as Cooperative Extension personnel, to involuntarily register any flock belonging to another party.

In the event that NCDA learns a farm is infected with HPAI, the state must partner with USDA in its response to HPAI to afford to pay for the response, and so NCDA will share information about the outbreak with USDA. For instance, poultry owners will only be eligible for indemnity from USDA for the destruction of any poultry if USDA staff have GPS coordinates for the impacted operation.

BIOSECURITY

Q. The conventional advice for avoiding infection with HPAI is to put and keep poultry indoors to prevent contact with infected waterfowl. This is not an option for many pasture-based producers who may not have enclosed areas appropriate to house poultry for an extended period of time. Moreover, organic certification requires that birds be provided with access to the outdoors, and if birds are denied such access a farm’s organic certification can be revoked.  What should organic producers do if their best biosecurity option is to confine birds indoors?  

A. With respect to organic certification, upon a farm’s request NCDA can write a letter on behalf of a grower requesting permission from the certifying agency to temporarily deny outdoor access to a flock. These letters can be provided by the State Veterinarian’s office to the grower for submission to a certifier. With regard to pasture-based flocks, while pastured poultry may be better able to resist the virus given their potentially stronger immune systems, the risk of exposure high, due to the increased chance for contact with infected waterfowl compared with confined flocks.

NCDA&CS Veterinary Division, Dr. R. Douglas Meckes – State Veterinarian

Mailing Address:1030 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1030

Physical Address: 2 W. Edenton Street, Raleigh, NC 27601

Phone:919-707-3250; FAX: (919) 733-2277

Q. Agritourism is an important source of revenue for many farms. How can agritourism farms with poultry deal with biosecurity concerns when welcoming visitors?

A. NCDA states that, at this time, it does not anticipate that any farm will be barred from having visitors or guests unless their flock is actually infected. It is up to individual farmers to decide whether to allow the community onto their farms during the fall season, but farms are strongly encouraged to prevent contact between poultry and the public, as well as to implement the biosecurity protocols identified above.

Q. NCDA is requiring farms with flocks of 200 poultry or more to put in place an HPAI Plan. Is there a plan template farmers can use and that is appropriate for small-scale commercial farms and organic and pasture-based operations? What will farmers do with their Plan? If they need to be submitted to a regulatory body, will they be approved or disapproved? Will someone recommend changes to the Plan? Will those reviewing the Plans be aware of the needs of organic and pasture-based farmers? Where are these Plans stored? Who has access to them? What will happen if the Plan is not followed?

A. A template and instructions for using it is available on NCDA’s HPAI page—click on the“grower response” button to access the grower response plan template. The template includes a list of biosecurity measures, a depopulation plan, and carcass disposal plan. It is acceptable for the farmer to say that they do not have the capacity to depopulate the flock or compost dead animals on their own and will request help from USDA/NCDA. Farmers should send their HPAI plans to NCDA once they are complete, and as with registration, NCDA states the purpose of the requirement for a plan is to establish communication between NCDA and farmers regarding the state’s HPAI response. NCDA will not critique HPAI plans unless a grower specifically asks for a review. NCDA may contact farmers whose plans include dangerous actions, such as disposing of infected carcasses in a body of water, but otherwise will not contact a farmer specifically about her plans unless the farm is infected or in the Control Zone. The plans are not legally binding and can be changed based on the circumstances in the event of an outbreak.

QUARANTINE

ncdazones

This image, from an NCDA Response and Containment Plan Draft represents the infected premise, the 3km Control Zone, and the 7km buffer-surveillance zone. Farms in the control and buffer-surveillance zones may be subject to quarantine, and the total 10km zone around an infected premise is referred to below as a quarantine zone.

Q.In the event that a farm engaged in agritourism is inside of a quarantine zone but is not itself infected, would that farm be able to continue its agritourism activities if they have poultry on the farm? What (if any) biosecurity measures would enable the farm to continue its agritourism activities? What if the farm is inside the quarantine zone and doesn’t have poultry on the farm?   

A. If there is no poultry on a farm in the quarantine zone, NCDA anticipates that farm should be able to continue agritourism operations as normal.  The state does not currently anticipate that there will be roadblocks in quarantine zones, but NCDA/USDA officials may be on poultry farms in a Control Zone wearing hazmat suits testing poultry. NCDA anticipates that they will work closely with a poultry farm in a quarantine zone that is engaged in agritourism to develop stringent biosecurity measures for the public.

Q. We understand that once a quarantine zone is established, surveillance will take place in the form of testing of flocks in quarantine zone until all are confirmed negative, and that that there may be door-to-door inquiries to locate flocks within that zone. A quarantine zone encompasses the infected premises, and the surrounding 3km Control Zone and the 7 km buffer/surveillance zone.  What will happen to farms with poultry when they are not infected with HPAI but are inside the quarantine zone? How will daily tests of the flock take place? Will individual birds be tested? During the quarantine, will testing take place every day? How long is the quarantine? What biosecurity measures will government agents take as they travel from farm to farm within the quarantine zone? If a farm is within the quarantine zone, are there restrictions on its sales? If so, what restrictions will be placed and what items will those restrictions effect?

A. There will be limits on the movement of poultry, poultry products, and poultry feed in and out of the 3 km Control Zone around an HPAI-positive farm.  Permits will be required to move poultry products out of the Control Zone. Permits will have a duration of sometimes a week and sometimes month—it depends on the product. The amount of testing that will be required depends on the product being moved. Testing conducted due to required surveillance will be paid for by USDA. Testing conducted in order to obtain a permit to bring poultry products to market (out of an infected Control Zone) is done at the expense of the farmer. NCDA recognizes that this will be a heavy burden for smaller scale growers and will be checking in with the USDA to get clarity on scale-appropriate testing costs. If a poultry farm proves that

  •        its flock is HPAI negative;,

  •        it has a biosecurity plan;

  •       it has filed out an epidemiology report (for infected farms); and

  •       it has a flock (HPAI) plan;

the farm will be eligible to obtain a permit to move product out of the Control Zone. For table egg producers in a Control Zone that are not infected with HPAI, eggs will be held for 2 days before they’ll be allowed out of the Control Zone even with a permit, and the flock must have negative test results for HPAI each day. NCDA is relying on USDA’s Secure Egg Supply document in establishing the permit process, so review that for information about how to obtain a permit.

Non-poultry products (excluding animal feed) can be moved off of uninfected farms in the 3 km Control Zone and the 7 km Buffer-Surveillance Zone without a permit, but they cannot be moved from an HPAI-infected farm until the premises has been decontaminated and disinfected.

For poultry farms within the 3km Control Zone, testing will be mandatory. Within the 7km Buffer-Surveillance zone, the more poultry farms that quickly comply with testing, the faster the zone may be reopened for trade if restrictions are imposed. If there are restrictions placed on the movement of poultry products in the 7km Buffer-Surveillance Zone  they will likely be released before those in the 3 km control zone. There will be a case-manager assigned to assist each poultry farm within an infected zone.

Within the 3 km Control Zone, no agricultural products will be allowed out for two days after the establishment of the Control Zone, to allow for identification and testing of all poultry flocks in the zone.  The amount of testing necessary to obtain a permit to move farm products out of the Control Zone will depend on the farm’s distance from the infected site and whether the farm is trying to move poultry products off-farm: The closer the farm seeking a permit is to an infected farm, the more testing will be required, especially if the non-infected farm is seeking to move poultry products off farm. Permits must be obtained on a rolling basis, the duration of each permit will depend on the product and zone specific conditions.  Quarantine measures will last for several months (there have been some cases that last up to a year). These measures may involve continued permitting and testing, and restriction of the movement of any poultry or poultry product into or out of a farm that is either the infected premise, within the Control Zone, or within the Buffer-Surveillance Zone. Infected facilities may only be restocked after proper cleaning and disinfection take place.

For poultry farms in the Control Zone, NCDA will test a random sample of live birds plus any dead or diseased birds. Chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl and similar species will be tested via oral swabs, and ducks will be tested using anal swabs.

NCDA employees will eventually go door to door in an infected Control Zone.These employees will have literature explaining what is happening and what HPAI is, and will have ID indicating they are part of an HPAI Response Team. They will ask if you have poultry and they will want to test them if you do. They will call ahead if you have registered with the NCFarm ID program and provided contact information. Going onto farms, government employees and contractors will suit up in Tyvek suits, boots, gloves, hair coverings, respirator. These items will be double bagged upon leaving the infected area, disinfected, and incinerated. All new gear will be donned prior to entering the next farm.

Q. If a farm mills poultry feed and has chickens, will the farm be able to sell chickens, sell feed either on or off farm? Take poultry off site for processing?

A. If an HPAI positive farm also sells feed, feed will not be allowed off the farm for the duration of the quarantine. If a farm that sells feed is in the control area but is not itself infected, feed will be allowed out with a permit (permit will probably only be for a week because of the high risk of infecting other poultry operations) Pelletized feed may possibly get a longer permit period because it is heated during production to a high temperature that would kill the virus. The determination about the length of permit duration will be made on a case by case basis.

Q. Is there compensation for lost business not directly caused by HPAI (e.g. lost agritourism, feed, fruits and vegetables from farms in the quarantine zone)?

No.

DEPOPULATION

Q. How accurate are test results for HPAI? Is NCDA confirming positive test results before depopulating a farm? How is recordkeeping being managed to ensure depopulation of the correct flocks?

A. All samples will be tested twice—once in Raleigh and once in Ames, Iowa at National Animal Health Lab Network (NAHLN). The first time a test is run in Raleigh that comes up positive, there will be no action taken until confirmation of a the positive is received from NAHLN. Once the first case is confirmed, subsequent tests will still be sent to both locations, but after the initial confirmation NCDA will act on results from the Raleigh lab. Both labs provide results within 8 hours of receipt, but it takes longer to deliver a sample to NAHLN. No birds will be depopulated until the farmer signs an indemnity agreement (see below).

Q. How are backyard flocks depopulated? Is there compensation for birds raised for home use? How is that determined?

A. Small flock owners, including non-commercial flocks, are entitled to indemnification at the same rate as conventional growers. Again, USDA pays only for birds that are alive when appraiser arrives. Depopulation of small flocks is accomplished using a hand held foamer in 55 gallon trash cans.

Q. NCDA will use mobile foaming units to depopulate flocks. Can these units be used if there is no housing for the poultry or the housing is not completely enclosed?

A. Foam machines and fencing will be used for larger pastured operations. NCDA has temporary poles and fencing appropriate for the task.

Q. It is our understanding that in many cases, after depopulation birds have been composted on site in poultry houses.  How will the composting of poultry take place if there is no poultry house? Who bears responsibility for obtaining the requisite amount of carbon for the composting? Who oversees the compost process? How often? Who turns the pile?

A. Composting will take place outside if there is no house, and NCDA or its contractor will provide the carbon material if necessary. Farmers with an HPAI Plan should have identified a place where composting can take place on farm. They will need a windrow 6-8’ wide and 8’ tall. An expert will set up the pile and oversee turning it 14 days later. Daily monitoring can be performed by an NCDA contractor or the farmer. Twenty-eight days after the composting process begins, the virus should be dead and the compost will be Federal Class A, meaning that it can be bagged and sold.

Do not bury dead birds without following protocols that will be posted on NCDA’s website soon—there is a potential for virus to leach into the water table, as well as contamination of ground and surface water supplies from decomposing carcasses, if burial is not done correctly.

Q. What is in the foam used in depopulating a flock? Can organic producers use it without losing their certification? If not, is there another substance that can be used on organic farms? If not, how will organic farmers be compensated for their loss?

A. The foam is a water-based solution. Growers should consult with their certifier, but it is anticipated that as long as the composting process takes place in accordance with USDA standards (which is necessary in order to kill the virus), the resulting compost should be able to be used by organic farmers.

Q. Who owns the compost when the process is complete?

A. The farmer.

Q. What happens if one or more birds escape the depopulation process?

A. Birds with the disease will die quickly. It is anticipated that the amount of time, cleaning, and testing required before a farm can repopulate should ensure that the farm is virus-free before it reopens for business.

Q. What is the process for setting compensation for a depopulated flock? Is the compensation model based on actual market value of the birds? What, if anything, will NCDA do to address the disparity in value between conventionally raised birds and those raised by organic and pasture-based operations?  

A. USDA will only pay for birds that are alive at the time a farmer signs an indemnity contract, prior to depopulation; birds that have already died from the virus prior to depopulation are not eligible for indemnification. USDA has a set prices based on the type of bird (layer, pullet, broiler, etc), age of the bird, projected future egg production, and provides a higher price for certified organic birds than non-organic. No other variables will be taken into account, e.g. whether the birds are pasture-raised, free range, etc.

 

Related Articles