FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Caribbean Poultry Officials: Good biosecurity practices essential in reducing risk of disease spread of Avian Influenza Viruses to the region

Caribbean poultry officials are continuing to ensure that poultry farmers in the region are provided with up to date information on adequate disease prevention techniques, which should contribute to reducing the risk of Avian Influenza Viruses spreading to poultry farms in the Caribbean. Recently, over 50 Barbadian poultry farmers benefitted from a biosecurity workshop held on the island. Similar workshops will also be held in other Caribbean islands starting in January 2016.

(Bridgetown, 26 November, 2015) – Regional workshops on good disease prevention techniques for poultry farmers are but one of the measures that are being taken across the region by Caribbean poultry officials, in an effort to safeguard animal health and the food security of the region, assured Dr Cedric Lazarus, Livestock Development Officer of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The first of these workshops took place in Barbados, where over 50 of the island’s poultry farmers were provided with up to date information on adequate disease prevention techniques, so as to strengthen on-farm biosecurity practices on the island.

Prior to the workshop, Dr Mark Trotman, Senior Veterinary Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, stressed that good biosecurity practices were considered essential in reducing the risk of poultry becoming infected with avian influenza viruses, should these viruses enter the Caribbean region. The workshop took place on Saturday 28 November, and was organized by the Caribbean Animal Health Network (CaribVET) in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, the Barbados Agriculture Society (BAS), the Inter American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Caribbean Poultry Association (CPA).

At the workshop, Dr Lazarus, who chaired the proceedings, stated that findings made by the United States Department of Agriculture, indicated that the spread of the avian influenza virus between farms in the USA earlier this year occurred mainly through biosecurity lapses and the movement of people and equipment between farms. He urged farmers to pay close attention to the implementation of good biosecurity practices on their farms, which include proper cleaning and disinfection of farm equipment and tools, as well as restricting visitors and vehicles to their farms. He also stressed that farm equipment should not be shared between farms. Such practices, he said, would not only reduce the possibility for disease spread, but would also safeguard animal health and the food security of the region.

The session was organized against the backdrop of the December 2014 outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N2 strain of the influenza virus that occurred in the USA. The virus eventually spread to 21 states, infecting commercial and backyard poultry, as well as captive wild birds. These outbreaks resulted in the culling or depopulation of approximately 7.5 million turkeys and 42 million layers and pullet chickens, with devastating effects on the poultry industry. By the time the US outbreaks ended in June 2015, the cost to the Federal taxpayer amounted to approximately one billion US dollars.

It is well known that the virus originated in wild birds, which appear to be a reservoir for these viruses. Although the Caribbean has been unaffected thus far, it is important that the region starts to prepare for any eventuality, due to the fact that wild birds migrate south during the fall and some of the migratory pathways from North to South America pass over the Caribbean Islands.

The workshop’s organizing bodies will continue to work tog ether with poultry farmers and other stakeholders
to engage in further prevention measures to reduce the risk of the spread of avian influenza and other diseases to poultry farms in Barbados. Similar workshops will be held in other Caribbean islands, starting in January 2016.