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Organic poultry consumers should understand disease-control challenges

Growing demand for eggs and poultry produced from outdoor flocks requires greater consumer understanding about the challenges farmers face in protecting birds from avian influenza.

David Swayne, director of the USDA-ARS-Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, said that ensuring the highest levels of biosecurity to prevent wild birds coming into contact with farmed animals is more challenging in outdoor flocks.

And he said that consumers who want to buy products produced in outdoor and organic systems need to understand and be more sympathetic about what farmers have to do to manage those risks.

Speaking at a WattAg seminar on global strategies for tackling avian flu, Swayne said that introducing control measures in outdoor systems is becoming more of an issue as retailers and consumers choose meat from outdoor-reared animals.

“These production systems have their own inherent risks, and they require us to manage those risks,” he said.

“The populations that are reared outdoors have increased surveillance to spot outbreaks in wild birds. They may require increased testing to identify low- and high-pathogenic virus.”

Swayne said the industry must begin serious discussions about how it can provide better protection against the virus.

Part of those talks should surround vaccination, and how to convince consumers that it’s a sensible step to reducing the likelihood of an outbreak, he said.

“If the consumer is educated about the positive implications vaccination can have, that it makes them healthier, a better source of food for humans, that may mean it gets them on side,” he added.

Aldo Rossi, director of world quality assurance and veterinary services at Cobb, agreed that while vaccination may be one solution, outdoor producers also need to look at biosecurity in a different way.

“Yes, the risk increases with birds laying outdoors, however separating wildlife from those birds is critical,” he said.

“Some things can be done through screening or fencing or managing the wildlife to mitigate the risk. That’s something compartmentalization [introducing standardized biosecurity processes across all facilities] can help with.”

Despite the perceived increased risk, Steven Clarkson of UK organic certification body OF&G said many organic producers — particularly in the UK — are already taking a tough approach to keeping flocks free from avian flu.

“Yes, organic poultry units are more susceptible to certain diseases due to the fact they have constant access to the elements, but they also build up an immunity to disease as well,” he told Poultry Health Today.

“Biosecurity forms an integral part of organic management for all species of livestock, as the premise is around the avoidance and prevention of disease through appropriate livestock and management techniques, reducing the need to use veterinary inputs.”

Watch the full seminar


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