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From the editor: November/December 2015

Lessons learned

November 24, 2015  by  Marg Land


It’s been almost six months since the last new case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was reported in North America (knock on wood). And now that the dust and feathers have settled from the destructive outbreak – more than 49 million chickens and turkeys destroyed plus almost $1 billion in tax payer costs – the poultry industry and government officials are taking time to gather and discuss lessons learned from the “worst animal disease in U.S. history.” And prepare for something even more catastrophic.

In mid-September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its Fall 2015 HPAI Preparedness and Response Plan (available at This document builds from the department’s experiences during the spring 2015 outbreak and assumes a worst-case scenario involving 500 or more commercial operations infected across a wide geographical area.

“APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) focused considerable effort in the area of depopulation and disposal during our fall planning activities,” the document states. “The size of the [spring 2015] outbreak clearly outstripped the capacity to depopulate flocks and dispose of carcasses. Additionally, a number of hurdles further delayed our ability to quickly use landfills and incinerators for carcass disposal,
such as concerns over liability, environmental impacts, and public acceptance.”


No one understands those hurdles better than Mark Van Oort, complex manager for Center Fresh Egg Farm – an Iowa-based egg laying facility. He shared his HPAI experience during the Fifth International Symposium on Managing Animal Mortalities, Products, By-Products and Associated Health Risks, held in Lancaster, Pa., this past fall. During the spring outbreak, Van Oort was given the unenviable task of guiding Center Fresh through large-scale euthanasia of more than seven million laying hens plus disposal of carcasses, manure and feed. During his presentation, he described, in detail, his frustration discovering what he could legally do to dispose of the operation’s growing pile of dead birds and manure. Eventually, he was given the go ahead to compost the carcasses.

As a result of Van Oort’s and other stakeholders’ experiences, APHIS reviewed federal and state regulations pertaining to carcass disposal in order to identify potential challenges and solutions to overcome them.

And not just the USDA is looking at this issue. The U.S. Poultry and Egg Association recently circulated a request for research proposals on how best to dispose of poultry carcasses as rapidly as possible. Pre-proposals were due in by early November. It should be interesting to see what technologies make it through for further investigation.

U.S. Poultry also plans on holding a one-day “Lessons Learned” program discussing HPAI on Jan. 28, 2016, during the International Production and Processing Expo in Atlanta, Ga. Visit for a full schedule.

For those interested in learning more about the Fifth International Symposium on Managing Animal Mortalities, Products, By-Products and Associated Health Risks, proceedings from the event were recently posted online. Visit to access them.





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