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Chicken industry launches avian influenza testing program

Agriculture.com Staff 01/05/2006 @ 10:17am

The US commercial chicken industry announced today a testing program to ensure that chicken flocks and the food products made from them are free of potentially hazardous forms of avian influenza, according to a release from the National Chicken Council (NCC).

"Through comprehensive testing covering all flocks, chicken companies will add another layer to the multiple barriers that already exist to protect Americans consumers and continue to ensure safety and quality of the food supply," said Stephen Pretanik, NCC director of science and technology.

Under the NCC program, participating companies will take samples from each flock while it is still on the farm. Tests will be conducted under procedures approved by the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP), an existing federal/state cooperative program. Companies are required to keep records of flocks tested under the program and to have audits conducted by independent, third-party auditors at least once per year.

Any flock found to have avian influenza in the H5 or H7 types -- which are the only types known to be able to change from the low- to high-pathogenic form -- will be "promptly and humanely destroyed on the farm and disposed of in an environmentally acceptable manner," according to NCC. None of the birds will be sent to the processing plant or otherwise enter the food chain.

The strain of avian influenza causing fear of an epidemic, H5N1, has never been found in the US, according to the USDA.

Should an outbreak occur, a two-mile control zone will be established around affected flocks, with continued testing being done on other flocks within that zone. Those birds could only go to market once declared clear of H5/H7 avian influenza.

Companies with more than 90% of chicken production have already enrolled in the program, according to NCC, and signups are currently being accepted from other companies. Enrolled companies are required to report their findings to NCC on a monthly basis, and report any confirmed finding of an H5 or H7 virus to the USDA, which would report it to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

Extensive avian influenza testing is already being done through state laboratories, NCC says, and importing chicken from countries affected by H5N1 is prohibited. More than 99% of chicken consumed in the US is produced in this country, with the rest imported from Canada.

"Americans have a very high degree of confidence in the safety of their food supply, and we will continue to work with state and federal agencies to ensure that chicken is safe," Pretanik said.

The US commercial chicken industry announced today a testing program to ensure that chicken flocks and the food products made from them are free of potentially hazardous forms of avian influenza, according to a release from the National Chicken Council (NCC).

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