Compartmentalization offers the opportunity to continue trading from compartments of the poultry industry that are free of disease during periods of disease outbreak in a country or zone. The concept of compartmentalization has been recognized by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) in its terrestrial animal health code for years, but no mechanism exists for countries to recognize compartments. Primary breeder companies and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are working to try and make compartmentalization more than just a concept.
Rules for compartments
The OIE code defines a compartment as "one or more establishments under a common biosecurity management system containing an animal subpopulation with a distinct health status with respect to a specific disease or specific diseases for which surveillance, control and biosecurity measures have been applied for the purpose of international trade." Dr. Gary Colgrove, director, sanitary trade issues team, USDA APHIS, said that the agency is drafting a proposed rule for compartmentalization based on OIE guidelines. This rule would give APHIS the authority to both recognize compartments abroad and certify compartments within the U.S. The proposed rule is expected to be published in mid-2009, but there is no definite time frame for it at this point. After the proposed rule is published, industry and other interested parties will be asked to give comments. After the comment period, a final rule is formulated and published.
But APHIS and the U.S. poultry industry are not going to wait for the rule to be published before gauging international interest in compartmentalization. "The discussions we have had so far are with the primary breeders," Colgrove said. "We are working with them on developing a pilot project or trial run where we would go through the process of certifying a compartment. They would give us the information defining their compartment, the biosecurity measures, the surveillance carried out, and so on.
"We would audit their compartment and then package this information and present it to a country, yet to be identified, and say, OK, would you take a look at our process and tell us if you would be able to recognize compartments in the U.S. based on this process'."
Access to markets important
The interest of U.S-based primary breeders in compartmentalization is certainly understandable. For example, low-path avian influenza in a single flock of meat birds can shut down exports, even if only temporarily, from an entire state or group of states. Fertilized eggs that haven't been incubated will keep for days, but trade interruptions lasting weeks or more can be quite costly. A breeder who is recognized as a "comparment" would be able to ship to countries recognizing the compartment.
Overseas trading partners have a vested interest in compartmentalization as well. Yes, countries need to protect their domestic industries from disease, but those industries also receive much of their genetic material from the U.S. According to the Primary Breeders Veterinary Association, around 70% of the worldwide commercial poultry production depends on primary breeding companies based in the U.S.
Cooperation is key
"We certainly support the concept of compartmentalization," said Colgrove. "We are trying to work through the kinks with the primary breeder industry. But the bottom line is that the decision whether or not to recognize these compartments depends on the importing country.
"It is not an automatic that if we say that company X is a compartment that this means X can continue to trade in case of an outbreak. It is going to be the decision of the importing country as to whether they want to honor that."
Colgrove added, "A pilot project or trial run will begin in the latter part of November  and could potentially have the industry package and APHIS's review completed by spring or early summer, which is optimistic, but we are intent on doing this, so it will get done."
Primary breeders are ready
Colgrove thinks that primary breeder companies are prepared for compartmentalization. "Primary breeders are probably already doing everything that they need to do," he said. "It is just a matter of having the process in place to assure the importing country that there is the oversight and there is the auditing. It clearly would be more difficult when you go out to the meat birds and layers. I won't say it is impossible, we will just have to work our way through it."
Acceptance of compartmentalization by trading partners may not be easy, but Colgrove thinks there is hope. "I am optimistic that at least some of our trading partners will accept," he said. "There are some that we can probably assume won't. It is a concept that countries, at least on paper, are supporting. I understand that the European Union is developing legislation that will have their criteria in it that they would use to certify their compartments and recognize compartments abroad. Even though it has been in the OIE code for a while, countries are just beginning to grapple with it."