07.07.15

Chairman Roberts Hears Avian Flu Challenges, Response, Paths Forward

U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today held a hearing on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: the impact on the U.S. poultry sector and protecting U.S. poultry flocks. 

In early 2015, outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) began appearing in backyard flocks and in a few isolated commercial poultry flocks. The disease has spread rapidly and forced egg and poultry producers to depopulate millions of birds across the country, creating short and long-term damaging effects on rural economies. 

“Agriculture businesses are often the backbones of the rural communities that dot the American countryside, and the ripple effect that HPAI has had on these rural communities is dramatic and widespread,” Chairman Roberts said. 

“While this outbreak has caused severe disruption to the U.S. poultry sector and to retailers, it is important to reiterate that there has been no impact on human health and/or food safety. 

“It is critical that we take the lessons learned from this outbreak and put them to good use. We need to take a good hard look at the animal health infrastructure here in the U.S. so we have the proper measures in place to continue to protect U.S. flocks and herds, and thus the global food supply." 

For witness info, testimonies, and to watch the hearing, click here

The following is Chairman Roberts’ opening statement as prepared for delivery: 

Good afternoon.  I call this meeting of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry to order.

We are here today to learn from stakeholders on “Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: The Impact on the U.S. Poultry Sector”.

Thank you to our witnesses for sharing their experience with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza or HPAI. I know several of you have had infected farms, and others have been on the front lines of response.

I commend the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the State Departments of Agriculture and the impacted sectors for their coordination and diligence in addressing HPAI.

If it weren’t for the rapid response by all involved, including impacted producers, the virus could have caused more damage.

The rapid response demonstrated by government and industry alike is the kind of coordinated effort that will ensure the U.S. poultry sector weathers this storm.

I am also pleased to share that many of the first farms hit with HPAI in the upper mid-west have begun repopulating their farms. This is a critical step because it enables these farms to begin generating income again. 

As we will hear from experts today, it is important to emphasize the fact that this outbreak of HPAI poses no food safety risks, nor does it pose any public health risks.

While this outbreak has caused severe disruption to the U.S. poultry sector and to retailers, it is important to reiterate that there has been no impact on human health and/or food safety.

Nevertheless, this has been and continues to be an incredibly taxing and trying situation for the individuals and industries represented here today.


Agriculture is a high risk business; and our poultry and egg producers are experiencing first-hand the damaging toll some of these risks take on their operations.

Many of the impacted farms employ dozens, or in some cases, hundreds of people.

These businesses are often the backbones of the rural communities that dot the American countryside, and the ripple effect that HPAI has had on these rural communities is dramatic and widespread.

It is critical that we hear some of the lessons learned from the impacted industries and from the animal health experts at the Department of Agriculture.

We need to identify improvements that must be made to both our national animal health infrastructure and biosecurity measures on farms to ensure the U.S. poultry and livestock sectors are protected from future disease threats.

In 2013 and 2014, the U.S. pork sector was plagued with a similar devastating virus. 

Now in 2015, we are experiencing HPAI, which has resulted in depopulation of 10 percent of egg laying hens and 3 percent of turkeys produced in the U.S.

Both of these experiences have emphasized the importance of bolstering our animal health infrastructure and foreign animal disease preparedness here in the U.S.

U.S. businesses, such as food producers and restaurant owners, want to ensure that disease threats like HPAI don’t continue to cause the extreme price volatility they’ve been working hard to manage.
It is critical that we take the lessons learned from this outbreak and put them to good use. We need to take a good hard look at the animal health infrastructure here in the U.S. so we have the proper measures in place to continue to protect poultry and livestock, and thus the global food supply.

U.S. agriculture has a long history of providing the safest and most abundant food supply in the world.  That is due to the strength and dedication of our producers.  I am confident that even in the face of today’s challenges, our farmers will continue to deliver safe, affordable and abundant products.

I now recognize the Ranking Member, Senator Stabenow.

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