By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked his Chinese counterpart on Monday to reconsider the country's complete ban on poultry imports from the United States as avian influenza cases continue to spread.
Vilsack spoke with the Chinese agricultural minister for about 45 minutes in a discussion largely centered on a continuing dialogue U.S. and Chinese officials are having on biotechnology approvals.
Still, Vilsack said he also brought up China's national ban on all poultry imports. Vilsack said the ban isn't based on science. Vilsack also noted there are entire poultry-production regions of the U.S. that haven't been impacted by the H5N2 avian influenza outbreak.
"He indicated he would take that under advisement but Chinese law is pretty clear on this issue," Vilsack told reporters on Monday.
Chinese law calls for a national ban of poultry imports from any country facing an outbreak of avian influenza. However, Vilsack said China is planning to send a team to the U.S. this summer to examine biosecurity measures in the U.S. poultry industry "in hopes they might see approaches and techniques that we are taking that might help them do a better job in China and to reassure them we have surveillance in place, that we have bio-controls in place so that they understand and appreciate that a countrywide ban may not be appropriate," Vilsack said.
China is one of 11 countries that have implemented a full-country ban on poultry imports from the U.S. over avian influenza. Forty other trading partners, as well as the entire European Union, have implemented regional bans on imports from any state where H5N2 has been detected.
Vilsack said partial bans are based more on science and international standards. It's not fair to restrict exports from the Delmarva Peninsula or North Carolina because producers in the upper Midwest are hit with the virus, Vilsack said.
Cases continue to mount as Iowa officials reported initial test findings on another 5.5 million egg-laying chickens in the state on Monday. Federal officials reported having paid out $60 million in indemnity to producers over avian influenza.
In fighting the spread of the H5N2 virus, Vilsack said the initial goal right now is to detect the disease and contain it as quickly as possible. For producers, it's in their best interest to identify potential flock infections quickly because of the way farmers are indemnified and reimbursed for flocks that have to be destroyed.
"I think it's also important for us to continue to work with a producer once there is an incident to ensure that their facilities are appropriately cleaned and sanitized to prevent reoccurrence," Vilsack said.
For areas of the country that have not been infected, USDA is trying to emphasize the importance of biosecurity systems on individual farms. USDA has a detailed booklet for producers to help identify steps they can take to reduce the risks of avian influenza infecting their flocks. Nonetheless, Vilsack noted several major farms that have been infected in the Midwest also had strong biosecurity measures.
In relating this year's avian influenza outbreak with last year's cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea that swept through the swine herd, Vilsack said the agricultural industry is coming to realize that these viruses are going to occur. "We're going to just have to do the best job we can to try to prevent it and if it occurs to try to mitigate it," Vilsack said.
Vilsack said scientists and the industry have to try to focus on getting ahead of the disease because avian influenzas can mutate quickly into a different strain that could be at least as equally devastating. "Obviously, one of the best things is to see if we can produce a vaccine," he said.
As DTN reported Monday, new cases continue to mount. USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced six new confirmed positive cases late Monday afternoon in Iowa, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Once Iowa receives positive confirmation tests for the 5.5 million birds announced, APHIS will add them to the official list, which you can find here: http://goo.gl/….
The official total of birds that have had to be destroyed so far is 7.8 million, but it will likely rise to about 13.3 million birds when the latest Iowa finds are factored in.
There have only been three outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the United States in the last 100 years. The most severe was in Pennsylvania and the Shenandoah Valley in 1983 and included 17 million birds.
Chris Clayton can be reached at email@example.com
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN
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