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The North American poultry industry changed forever during the winter of 2014-2015, when an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza struck commercial turkey flocks, eventually reaching the U.S. egg industry and leading to the loss of more than 48 million birds.
While biosecurity plans and programs have long been a part of the poultry industry, the widespread losses in the United States and Canada pushed the importance of strong biosecurity to the forefront of the minds of those in the poultry industry.
Farmers who once welcomed visitors to their farms had to make adjustments. For example, Missouri turkey farmer Don Steen said on March 3 at the 2019 Annual Meat Conference that he frequently had visitors and reporters come to his farm, but added that due to biosecurity concerns, he has fewer outside people come to his farm.
But the increased emphasis on good biosecurity programs has had its benefits. When highly pathogenic avian influenza returned to North America in 2016, the severity of the outbreak was reduced exponentially. H7N8 avian influenza was confirmed in 10 Indiana turkey farms in January of that year. But it did not turn into a repeat of 2015, instead the virus never spread beyond the county where those ten farms were located. Then, in early May, low pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza was found in a commercial turkey farm in Jasper County, Missouri, but the virus never spread beyond the initial 39,000 turkeys affected at that farm.
Since that time, a new poultry disease event has become concerning to the poultry industry.
In May 2018, the first case of virulent Newcastle disease (vND) was confirmed in what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) referred to as a “backyard exhibition chicken.” Since that time and as of March 8, 2019, there have been 397 cases of vND in California and 1 in Utah. Three of the cases were in commercial layer flocks.
Since the majority of the vND cases have happened with bird owners not involved with commercial production and are not likely to have a firm understanding of biosecurity, bringing an additional challenge to those in the poultry industry.
However, so many of the biosecurity principles that have help keep another major avian influenza outbreak from occurring have also proven beneficial in limiting the spread of vND.