National Turkey Federation Chairman Carl Wittenburg advocated for protection of the nation’s nearly $441 billion investment in poultry and livestock requiring a forward-looking, mandatory Animal Pest and Disease Prevention Program and Foot and Mouth Vaccine Bank designed to limit the impacts of foreign diseases on American livestock and poultry producers. In testimony before the House Agriculture Livestock Subcommittee on Tuesday, Wittenburg, a North Dakota turkey farmer, warned that the recent outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) among chickens illustrates the risk that must be addressed.
“As partners in the Animal Ag Coalition, which represents all facets of animal ag production,” said Wittenburg, “we hope to build upon the concept that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ mantra and focus federal dollars on targeted efforts that reduces foreign diseases’ ability to gain a foothold here in the first place. As an industry, we learned many lessons from the outbreak, and the way we quickly contained a similar case of HPAI in Indiana last year indicates the industry is applying those lessons to reduce the chances of a future outbreak. However, the road ahead remains long and as an industry we will need continued support from Congress to assist USDA/Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to reduce the long-term impacts.”
Wittenburg outlined four key areas of focus:
- Support for the Animal Pest and Disease Disaster Prevention Program
- Establish a long-needed Foot and Mouth Vaccine Bank strategy
- Develop block grants for states and other key players for strategic targeting areas of concern
- Support and collaboration for funding the science generated by the science programs of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Wittenburg recounted the cost of billions of dollars in production losses and response costs in recent years. According to USDA’s APHIS, the 2015 avian influenza outbreak cost taxpayers $1 billion in response, clean up, and indemnity costs. That doesn’t include lost export markets, temporary shortages, or price increases for certain poultry products.
Wittenburg and his wife Sharlene raise 100,000 turkeys annually at the Wyndmere, North Dakota family farm as president of Protein Alliance representing the sales of the 27-member farmer-owned cooperative Northern Pride in neighboring Minnesota at Thief River Falls.