The U.S. poultry industry needs answers to five concerns about a vaccination strategy for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) being proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), while still preparing for the worst this fall if wild birds migrating south bring the disease to the Atlantic flyway.

That's according to the National Chicken Council's Dr. Ashley Peterson, who said at the Poultry Processor Workshop, "We need to prepare for the worst [in the U.S effort to control highly pathogenic avian influenza] – the possibility of the disease this fall in the Atlantic flyway.”

Given the geographic location of highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak so far, mainly in turkeys and eggs in the upper Midwest, the broiler industry hasn't borne the effects of the virus in its flocks, though it has suffered some trade bans so far. But, the trade picture could deteriorate further if the proposed vaccination strategy is adopted in the U.S.; it is widely believed that some countries would restrict U.S. poultry imports once vaccination was implemented.

Peterson noted the broiler industry has a big stake in the vaccination program being formulated. It has 77 percent of U.S poultry exports, $4.5 billion in broiler meat, and $500 million in day-old broiler chicks and hatching eggs.

The broiler industry has five concerns about the vaccination strategy for highly pathogenic avian influenza currently proposed by APHIS for turkeys in five states:

1. Federal authority should be maintained over the proposed vaccination strategy, if it is implemented.

2. Trade ramifications of the proposed HPAI vaccination strategy should be fully understood before vaccination is adopted.

3. Biosecurity measures need to be improved in the U.S poultry industry, and lessons learned this year from outbreaks need to be shared in the industry.

4. There needs to be an understanding of the effectiveness of the available vaccines in turkeys and the plan for the administration of the proposed strategy.

5. The consequences, if any, on the processing of vaccinated birds for meat needs to be determined.

Trade implications of the proposed HPAI vaccination strategy are potentially huge.  OIE considers avian influenza to be endemic in countries that vaccinate for the disease, and this means countries may erect trade bans.

Peterson said, "We don't know what our trading partners would do if the proposed vaccination strategy is adopted. 

"Mexico and Canada are two of the U.S.’s biggest trading partners. Mexico relies heavily on U.S. poultry products because it has an AI issue and a population that needs a lot of meat and eggs.

"Would Mexico ban U.S. poultry because of the proposed vaccination program if it is implemented? I would say no. But that's just speculation because they need the protein," she said.

Peterson said answers are needed to questions like these before any proposed vaccination strategy is adopted and implemented.