USDA-APHIS Defend the Flock. Are They Tuned in to Reality?


As more than 140 individual outbreaks of vvNewcastle Disease have been diagnosed in 'backyard flocks' (in reality a deceptively mundane characterization of fighting cocks) spread among three counties in southern California since May 2018, APHIS simply kept score. Inevitably the uncontrolled infection spread to three commercial units based on proximity and failure to implement effective biosecurity.

APHIS is promoting a Protect the Flock campaign that encompasses a few principles of operational biosecurity appropriate to subsistence farms but is otherwise pablum. The recommendations with respect to commercial farms represent a detachment from reality in their simplicity and lack of detail. Perhaps APHIS and the CADFA are operating under a politically correct mandate not to offend owners of fighting cocks. The website lists a litany of measures that are suitable for homeowners backyard hens but are inadequate to protect commercial flocks from AI and ND irrespective of pathogenicity.

It is important to consider both the risk of introducing infection and the consequences of introducing a disease. In the case of catastrophic infection costs are immense accruing from depletion of the flock with or without indemnity, decontamination and loss of revenue and goodwill. In January 2017 the risk of vvND was low but consequences were high. In January 2018 as we now realize, the risk is considerably higher in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Is it proportionately higher in Stanislaus County three hours away by truck heading north on I-5 and Route 99? Or in the bordering states of Utah, Nevada or Arizona?

There has been far too much complacency and overt self-delusion by owners and authorities concerning investment in Structural biosecurity and hence supervision of Operational components of biosecurity for commercial laying operations. A capital investment of $100 million in infrastructure, housing, equipment and a packing plant in a new complex justifies commensurate expenditure on structural biosecurity. The basic capital investments should include:-

  • Fencing of the perimeter encompassing housing for flocks. Simply drawing lines on a site plan is an exercise in futility since there is no physical barrier to prevent uncontrolled entry of unauthorized persons or conversely to control the entry of authorized persons including employees shortcutting around biosecurity installations.

  • Blacktop or alternative impervious roads with drains are required within a site for service vehicles. Hardened roads allow natural decontamination by sunlight and other measures. Pathogens will persist in mud mixed with biological material and will be tracked into houses.

  • All personnel entering or leaving a designated live-bird area must shower in a purpose-built biosecurity module. Makeshift facilities including modified cargo containers may be inexpensive but they are invariably ineffective. "Personnel" includes owners, managers, supervisors, maintenance staff, house workers and crews for transfer, depletion, vaccination and beak-trim.

  • Functional and effective vehicle wash installations including a drive-through spray race and dip should be installed at the main entrance to the complex or other points of entry as required.

  • An on-site laundry facility is recommended for the biosecurity module to process Company-supplied clothing appropriate to gender and climate

It is axiomatic that effective Operational biosecurity is impossible to implement without investment in Structural facilities. Any compromise that neglects the known principles of the epidemiology of specific pathogens of concern or fails to consider the financial implications of risks and consequences is simply an exercise in "virus-roulette"

Why APHIS is pussyfooting around realities and failing to lay down minimum requirements for structural biosecurity relating to large egg-production complexes is incomprehensible. After all they have the ultimate responsibility for the control of outbreaks of exotic (actually regionally or seasonally endemic) diseases and disbursement of indemnity.