The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has selected Andy Schneider as a spokesperson for their Campaign on Poultry Health and Associated Disease Risks in backyard flocks. Known as the “Chicken Whisperer,” Schneider has gained a following among adherents of maintaining urban chickens. Schneider is the founder of Atlanta Back Yard Poultry, which claims a thousand members. He lectures extensively and is a moving force behind the growing interest in backyard poultry.

This appointment would appear to be a case of “in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.” Surely the USDA could have located a Board Certified Poultry Veterinarian from among their ranks or from academia to serve as a knowledgeable and presentable source of information. Schneider’s contributions which appear in Mother Earth News magazine and periodicals dealing with pet chickens are certainly not peer reviewed and lack scientific rigor.

The importance of backyard fowl in outbreaks of a catastrophic disease such as exotic Newcastle disease (END) or highly pathogenic avian influenza was highlighted during the END outbreak in Southern California at the end of 2002 and extending into 2003. Catastrophic disease is too important to relegate to laypersons.

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Is this appointment another manifestation of the decided bias of the USDA under Assistant Secretary Meriwether towards “sustainable/non-commercial food production”? Is this a logical extension of the KYF2 program? I know a lot of photogenic Board Certified Veterinarians currently in either APHIS or academia who could have provided expert advice and knowledge from the perspective of the entire poultry industry.

There is a concern that if Schneider does not adhere to an APHIS script misinformation could hamper both prevention and control of exotic diseases. The entire commercial industry has effectively been placed at risk from unregulated and uncontrolled proliferation of backyard flocks if Schneider is to be used as a conduit to convey his own specific messages to his constituency.

I would have felt a lot happier had they chosen a suitably qualified Poultry Veterinarian, especially a veteran of an eradication campaign or an appointee with international experience in biosecurity, vaccination diagnosis and control of both erosive and catastrophic diseases under non-commercial systems of management.