Virginia’s poultry and egg industries provide a direct economic impact of more than $3.6 billion to Virginia’s economy, according to the Virginia Poultry Federation. With the continuing threat of disease outbreaks in the poultry industry, including the highly publicized avian influenza, poultry growers are taking no chances.
Audrey McElroy, poultry Extension specialist, and her colleagues have helped poultry producers establish a biosecurity audit program to help prevent and lower the risk of disease transmission.
Following an outbreak of avian influenza in 2002 that infected more than 190 Virginia farms and resulted in the depopulation of more than 4.7 million chickens and turkeys in the Shenandoah Valley, the Virginia Poultry Federation formed a poultry disease task force to address the increasing threat of biosecurity issues. The task force — made up of representatives from the major poultry companies, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Environmental Quality, and other public health groups — recommended the development of the biosecurity audit program.
The audit program has been in place since 2004 and all major poultry and egg companies in Virginia currently participate in it. Twice a year, McElroy assesses all segments of live production for commercial broiler, turkey, and egg producers to identify biosecurity risks and opportunities for improvements in control of disease outbreaks or spread.
Companies are required to participate in two audits per year and an external auditor must conduct at least one of them. Each audit consists of on-site visits to three to four farms covering all aspects of the operation, including the hatchery, feed mill, transportation, and service personnel. Face-to-face interviews are conducted with individual growers, and the company must also answer questions about its biosecurity protocol.
On completion of the audit, a report is provided to each company with its results. Company management has indicated that as a result of the audit reports, company personnel and growers were educated on identified biosecurity risks, corrective measures were taken by company personnel and growers, and awareness of biosecurity practices was increased.
“Since the audits were initiated, the average audit score of those companies participating every year has improved from 84.8 percent in 2004 to 96 percent in 2012,” said McElroy.