Guidelines central to on-farm emergency management plans


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Chicken meat and egg industries unite to tackle disease threat amid ever-increasing industry biosecurity challenge

The Australian poultry industry is no stranger to exotic and emergency animal diseases (EAD), and at the centre of industry concerns is the threat of such diseases becoming more prevalent.

The rapid expansion of free-range poultry production coupled with the increasing popularity of hobby farmers and smaller niche operators with limited biosecurity knowledge, and the increasing trend towards highly intensive commercial production, has increased the risk of a major EAD incursion.

Conscious of this and recognising that emergency disease mitigation and management is a cross-industry priority, the chicken meat and egg industries invested in the development of systems and materials to improve preparedness in the event of an outbreak in either industry.

During an EAD outbreak, a rapid and coordinated response involving all industry stakeholders is required to prevent the disease from spreading to neighbouring farms, and minimise potential risks to public health and the environment — particularly groundwater and air.

A jointly funded project by AgriFutures Australia and Australian Eggs, with in-kind support from Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA), developed guidelines and management tools for producers to use when formulating on-farm emergency management plans.

“Disposal of large volumes of biomass, in the form of carcases, litter and feed, creates significant biosecurity, environmental and logistical issues for those charged with managing the operation,” project lead Rod Jenner said.

“Undertaking pre-emergency planning and identifying all the options available for a particular property can significantly improve response time to an EAD outbreak, thus enabling a more rapid business recovery.”

Rod explained that AUSVETPLAN recommendations for pre-planning of disposal of animal carases, materials, equipment, products and by products following an EAD or mass mortality event have been actioned by the chicken meat and egg industries, in part by way of the project.

“What we have done through the project is to develop the systems and plans needed to meet AUSVETPLAN recommendations,” Rod said.

“Processors and farmers now have the tools required to fulfil their biosecurity and environmental obligations under the different state legislations, and the tools provided will enable farmers to identify the most appropriate disposal methods, either on or off farm, for a non emergency mass mortality incident.”

Development of industry guidelines
To explore the availability of, and gaps in, resources necessary for an on-farm preparedness plan, the team created a hypothetical scenario of an EAD outbreak in a highly intensive commercial broiler farming region.

“The scenario, including total calculated disposal, was presented to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), geographic information systems (GIS) specialists at PIRSA and the Australian Chicken Growers’ Council (ACGC) to get their insights and knowledge of disposal of carcases and contaminated material,” explained Rod.

The next step involved the research team collating the regulatory requirements and resources available to help producers evaluate opportunities and identify potential limitations of on-farm disposal options.

There is significant activity around EAD preparation within state agriculture departments, and widespread support from key stakeholders to develop mass disposal plans, but there is little coordination between state departments, industry and other key stakeholders in preparing for EAD responses.

“Current resources are government-driven and not necessarily developed with industry. Industry contribution and engagement is a strong yet underutilised resource,” Rod said.

“The incentive for poultry industries to plan for EAD outbreaks needs to be promoted to all farmers, including those not contracted to processors or members of industry associations.”

While composting carcases and biomass is a viable option in many scenarios, composting large volumes of biomass requires specific skills and resources — something the team identified as an industry gap.

The team undertook an extensive literature review of global composting processes and procedures, and from this review, guidelines were developed for emergency poultry mass mortality composting.

“These guidelines form the basis of, and are key to, investigating the feasibility of on-farm composting as part of an on-farm emergency mass disposal preparedness plan,” Rod said.

“The tools developed — a biomass calculation tool and a decision questionnaire — enable farmers to self-assess their property and develop a report that outlines available options for disposal of large-volume mass mortalities on or off their property. It will also help farmers assess disposal options for an EAD outbreak, resulting in more efficient responses.”

Learn more about this project and more in the AgriFutures Chicken Meat Program
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