The U.S. Poultry & Egg Association's research program has been in place for 50 years, over which time nearly $25 million has been invested in research to help the industry find answers to its most vexing problems. John Starkey, president, USPOULTRY, said, "One of our strongest legacies at the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association has been funding our industry driven research."

The research funding process has been for the board of directors to issue a list of research priorities and researchers to then submit proposals to the foundation research advisory committee (FRAC), which is made up of poultry industry professionals. The FRAC uses the boards' guidelines along with their own expertise to evaluate the projects and recommend to USPOULTRY's board which projects should be funded.

Tackling new challenges

Starkey, who served on the FRAC when he worked for Hudson Foods, said that this system has worked very well, but sometimes the research proposal submittals are not quite as responsive to current industry needs as industry members would like to see. "There is some need to be able to address specific issues that maybe you didn't see coming three or four years ago that you need to be able to rapidly respond to and direct some research funding to that," he said. "Some of this came from the FRAC itself."

Starkey explained that one of the catalysts for the new program came from Don Jackson, who had served on the advisory committee before and has come back to serve on the committee again. "He really brought an emphasis on the need to be responsive to today's problems," Starkey said.

A new research program

Starkey explained that the current research funding program will be continued at its present level of $600,000 per year, but the new research initiative will be run in parallel. For the new program, five or six research priorities will be gathered on an annual basis to present in September to USPOULTRY's board. The research topics are specific and defined enough so that a request for a proposal can be drafted in the problem area. For 2013, the board has selected poultry well-being and the question of systemic Salmonella infection of poultry for $250,000 of funding. 


Systemic Salmonella infections in poultry

Of the two research initiatives that were recently approved by USPOULTRY's board, the request for proposals is closer to completion for the Salmonella project, according to Dr. John Glisson, director for research, USPOULTRY. Glisson said that the research funding will be used to try and answer the question of whether or not the problem of Salmonella contamination in ground poultry is coming from systemic Salmonella infections. "We have always though it was coming from surface contamination," he said.

Glisson explained that research with cattle and swine has shown that these animals can have systemic Salmonella infections that get into the lymphatic system. That has led to cattle processors to take steps to keep lymph nodes out of the materials used to make ground beef.

"Answering this very basic question, which the pork and beef guys answered a while back, has allowed them to make some significant progress [in Salmonella control]." Glisson said that knowing whether or not systemic infection is part of the source of Salmonella contamination of ground poultry products will allow the industry to direct control measures where they are most likely to be successful. The question of whether or not poultry can become systemically infected with Salmonella, specifically the enteritidis, typhimurium or Heidelberg serotypes, which Glisson characterized as the "Big 3," defines the focus of the Salmonella project.

"We may just need to keep these Salmonellae from becoming systemic," Glisson said. "There may be a number of things that we need to do. It will be different than it is in red meat. Poultry don't have lymph nodes that can be trimmed out. We know that enteritidis can become systemic, but we don't know about the other two."

Poultry well-being

Glisson said that the research initiative for poultry well-being may look at something like bird transport issues or beak-trimming. They are in the process of identifying and bringing together people from the industry to help decide what aspects of poultry well-being should be researched.