US feed industry responds to alleged link between poultry litter and bird flu spread

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/olaser
© GettyImages/olaser

Related tags highly pathogenic avian influenza dairy cattle aafco Afia

Some media reports have implied poultry litter as a potential cause for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus spread in US dairy cattle, but it's unlikely the illness originated from animal feed, says AAFCO.

Dried poultry litter, though not widely used, has been an approved commercial feed ingredient by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) since 1982.

That organization along with the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) are challenging media reports alleging that the bird flu virus has spread to dairy cattle due to the consumption of chicken litter on farms.

Robust food safety protocols make such accusations highly improbable, stresses Austin Therrell, executive director of AAFCO.

He highlighted the association’s stringent ingredient definition process​, which involves scientific review by the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine and approval from state regulators. He also underscores the preventive food safety measures mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The AAFCO Official Publication​ mandates manufacturers of processed animal waste products, like dried poultry litter, to conduct thorough testing and maintain records to certify the absence of various contaminants, including drugs, pesticides, pathogenic organisms, heavy metals, parasites, and mycotoxins, he adds.

Constance Cullman, CEO of the AFIA, supports AAFCO's stance: “We are concerned with recent sensational headlines and articles falsely accusing feeding practices of spreading the HPAI virus on dairy farms without fully disclosing the facts.”

Wild birds  

She cited USDA's confirmation that wild migratory birds are believed to be the original source of the virus in dairy cattle, with investigations ongoing into potential spread between herds. The AFIA lead also noted FDA's affirmation that there's no data indicating health risks from using poultry litter in cattle feed warranting restrictions.

“The US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has confirmed​ that based on what they know today, ‘wild migratory birds are believed to be the original source of the virus’ in dairy cattle, and their staff are further investigating cases where the virus has spread between herds through cattle movements or into nearby poultry premises. On a call last week, USDA’s chief veterinary officer and deputy administrator for veterinary services confirmed to stakeholders that nothing leaves the infected premises of an HPAI-impacted poultry farm, including poultry litter or waste to be used for crop fertilizer or feed. The FDA has also gone on record stating that it is ‘not aware of any data showing that the use of poultry litter in cattle feed is posing human or animal health risks that warrant restrictions on its use.”

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