The National Chicken Council (NCC) yesterday (5 January) announced plans to implement a voluntary testing programme designed to ensure that US chicken flocks and produce remain uncontaminated by avian influenza.

The programme will test flocks for H5 and H7 types of avian influenza while the birds remain on the farm. If the presence of the pathogen is detected the animals will be destroyed on the farm, thus limiting the potential for the spread of the disease. Were the disease to be detected, the NCC proposes a two-mile control zone around the affected flock. All other birds within that zone would be held and repeatedly tested to ensure that they were contamination free.

Although, according the US Department of Agriculture, there have been no recorded cases of bird flu in the US, fear of the virus has had a detrimental impact on the US poultry industry. It is hoped that the new program will allay the public’s concerns and restore consumer confidence in US poultry products.

“The steps being taken will assure our customers that none of our chickens, should they somehow contract one of these viruses, will ever enter a processing plant, thus adding a further layer of protection to consumers,” O.B. Goolsby, president and CEO of America’s second largest poultry producer Pilgrims Pride commented.

Although the program is voluntary, more than 90% of the US poultry industry has already signed up. The NCC is still accepting applications.

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“Through comprehensive testing covering all flocks, chicken companies will add another layer to the multiple barriers that already exist to protect Americans consumers and continue to ensure safety and quality of the food supply,” said Stephen Pretanik, director of science and technology for the NCC.