Poultry Industry's Antidote for Bird Flu
To many agricultural purists, corporate control of food production is for the birds. The business model, however, could be a key component in preventing an outbreak of avian influenza within the U.S., contend two poultry experts based at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.
Because nearly all commercial poultry production in the U.S. is company-managed--a system known as vertical integration--processes are safer and more efficient, stresses Todd Applegate, Purdue Extension poultry specialist. Such production practices are not as common in Asia and other nations where bird flu is a problem, adds Paul Brennan, executive vice president of the Indiana State Poultry Association.
"The poultry industry is the most vertically integrated of all of our livestock industries," Applegate explains. "As we try to reduce the risk of bird flu in this country, having full control over the entire production process is probably a good thing."
Poultry production is big business. In 2004, the combined production value of broilers, eggs, turkeys, and sales from chickens was $28,900,000,000, according to the Department of Agriculture. Of that total value, 71% came from broilers, 18% from eggs, and 11% from turkeys.
While wild fowl carrying the influenza virus could enter the U.S., it is unlikely those birds would come in contact with chickens and other commercially raised poultry since, in vertically integrated companies, they are carefully monitored to ensure optimum health and production quality.
"The typical company owns their own parent stock--the hens and roosters--that lay the eggs that are then transferred to a company-owned hatchery," Applegate observes. "The parent stock could be on a contract farm. The company would likely own the birds on that farm, provide them feed, and supply technical expertise to help that producer rear those birds. …