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Allocation to Control vvND in California. More of the Same?

03/28/2019

Reversing an earlier policy decision, USDA has allocated $45 million to APHIS and the CDFA from emergency funds not used during the 2014-2015 HPAI outbreak.

The purpose of the funds will be to put "more responders on the ground to increase surveillance and detection (of velogenic viscerotropic Newcastle disease) in backyard flocks." The stated objectives of the increased manpower will be to:

  • Ensure poultry, poultry products and poultry materials that move out of affected areas will be done in accordance with a permit

  • Enforcing quarantines and mandatory depopulation periods before introducing new birds

  • Preemptively depopulating poultry in high-risk areas

These measures are classic approaches to control of an exotic disease and will simply not achieve the goal of eradicating what must now be regarded as endemic Newcastle Disease in the game fowl ("fighting cock") population. These birds are located in dense clusters among conventional chickens and ducks in a three-county area of southern California where over 400 cases have been confirmed. The potential for extension from this population to other areas is evidenced by spontaneous diagnoses in "backyard" flocks in Utah and in northern California and three cases in commercial flocks near Perris in Riverside County.

Authorities simply will not recognize that the infection is endemic in a specific population maintained for the purposes of an illegal activity. Accordingly, owners of fighting cocks who have an economic incentive in addition to a cultural imperative to ignore quarantines and continue their activities in a clandestine manner. Threats of preemptive depopulation will result in dispersal of flocks and further dissemination of infection. "Putting more responders on the ground to increase surveillance" will serve to spread vvND since backyard farms do not have biosecurity facilities that can be used by APHIS and CDFA employees.

An editorial in EGG-NEWS posted in mid-February advocated the intensive application of vaccine to all birds in fighting cock flocks to produce a solidly immune population. This would markedly reduce the susceptibility of the backyard flock and fighting cock populations to below the outbreak threshold and ultimately the endemic threshold.

Any control program relying on an unrealistic dependence on quarantines and permits is bound to fail. Antagonizing owners of fighting cocks will encourage subterfuge. A more realistic approach to control of the 11-month outbreak will be abandoning the objective of complete eradication in this population and initiating a combination of vaccination with education of owners and then applying traditional control measures.

It is incumbent on owners and operators of commercial flocks to impose meaningful structural and operational biosecurity and not rely on federal and state officials to eradicate infection in an endemic subset of the poultry population of California. Even if the $54 million to pay for additional resources achieves eradication, how long will it be before the disease re-enters Southern California from northern states in Mexico where the infection is endemic and cock- fighting is prevalent? There are obvious epidemiologic connections between northern Mexico and southern California with respect to vvND.

Intended expenditure on surveillance, detection and quarantines is simply creating work for USDA and CDFA employees but with no logical outcome or prospect of success. Any program of control which does not encompass the cooperation of flock owners and encouraging them to immunize their birds runs counter to realities and denies the obvious lessons from the 1971 outbreak of vvND in Southern California and the subsequent outbreak in 2003.