Wicker & Cochran Seek USDA Action to Deal with Avian Flu Threat

Lawmakers Say Preparedness & Response Plan Should Help Ensure Viability of Industry

November 5, 2015

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., today signed a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking that action be taken to ensure the continued viability of the U.S. poultry industry should additional outbreaks of high path avian flu occur this fall or later.

The letter, authored by Cochran and signed by Wicker and eight other Senators, seeks action on three issues of importance to Southern boiler operations as the U.S. Department of Agriculture determines how best to implement its Fall 2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) Preparedness and Response Plan. (http://1.usa.gov/1iB7WF4)

“Mississippi’s poultry industry is a major contributor to the state’s economy, supporting thousands of jobs and bringing in billions of dollars each year,” Wicker said. “It is critical that we proactively prepare for an outbreak. USDA needs to expand financial protections for vulnerable businesses in the event that high path avian influenza is detected in our state.”

“Precautions should be taken now to help protect poultry producers from avian influenza,” Cochran said. “We have asked the Department of Agriculture to take actions that could help the poultry industry in Mississippi and other states overcome potentially devastating losses.”

The Mississippi Senators are working to ensure the USDA has policies in place that, if necessary, would help the state protect an industry that is Mississippi’s largest agricultural commodity. The industry, which directly employs more than 25,000 people, earned $2.8 billion in product value in 2014 through the production of 738 million broilers. The state last year exported $233 million worth of frozen and fresh poultry.

In response to detections, USDA must depopulate affected flocks to prevent the spread of HPAI, which could easily result in the loss of 100,000 birds or more. While the USDA compensates owners for such losses, its current regulations do not take growers into consideration, in the case of contract broiler operations.

The letter to Vilsack asks the USDA to take the following actions:

  • Ensure that the HPAI regulations will allow for equitable distribution of indemnity support between owners and growers engaged in contract poultry productions, without which the growers could be left vulnerable given the high cost of production. 
  • Provide indemnity protection against losses associated with HPAI-caused supply chain disruptions since the current assistance program would only cover birds that must be destroyed.
  • Direct the Farm Service Agency begin to develop guidelines to allow the restructuring of direct and guaranteed loans held by borrowers severely affected by HPAI.

In addition to the Mississippi Senators, the letter was signed by Senators John Boozman (R-Ark.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), David Vitter (R-La.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

The USDA is preparing for a new occurrences of HPAI in the United States, following an outbreak between December 2014 and June 2015 that infected more than 48 million birds in 15 states, including Missouri. (http://1.usa.gov/1JM8mEx)

The letter to Vilsack is available here: http://1.usa.gov/1NSaGZH