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Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman David Rouzer: Examination of Federal and State Response to Avian Influenza

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. I appreciate the attendance of our colleagues and witnesses as the subcommittee begins its formal review of the recent outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

As we will hear from our witnesses, this was without a doubt one of the worst, if not the worst animal disease outbreaks our country has ever faced. More than 220 farms were infected in 21 states, nearly 48 million chickens and turkeys were depopulated, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent.

The Subcommittee has been following these events for some months but specifically chose to delay any formal oversight until the disease was under control to prevent diversion of the agency’s attention in the middle of a crisis.

As we begin this review, let me state that it is not our intent to be a Monday morning quarterback. Rather, we want to learn from experience. We want to highlight what was done right by identifying areas where improvement was made; where opportunities for further improvement exist; and most importantly, figure out where we need to focus as we prepare for another possible outbreak this fall.

As most observers know, the heat of the summer is primarily responsible for the interruption in disease transmission, but as fall approaches and temperatures begin to drop, we need to be prepared for more cases, possibly covering a larger geographical area.

A number of issues have arisen that need further discussion. For instance, the approval of an effective vaccine is on the horizon, but if we utilize this tool, we will need to ensure trade is not disrupted.

Questions persist regarding the efficacy of the industry’s biosecurity plans. While many farms have exceptional bio-security procedures and mechanisms in place, some observers have raised questions regarding the degree to which biosecurity protocols are being followed. We are certainly aware of some of the resource limitations that delayed depopulation, disposal and disinfection early in the outbreak. As repopulation commences, several Members have heard from constituents raising questions related to some of the challenges that lie ahead.

We recognize that preventing further outbreaks is a critical priority. That said, we are mindful of the financial burdens producers are facing, particularly if they are unable to get back up and running in a timely fashion. After all, time is money.

We will likely also hear about concerns related to indemnification. The law is fairly clear regarding the payment of fair market value for animals that are destroyed, but how fair market value is defined and determined appears to be subject to some discretion.

We are faced with a set of issues here that are complex, and we would welcome any and all suggestions on how this Subcommittee might be helpful as we move forward. In particular, I am aware of the program created in the Plant Protection Act for disease management and prevention, and wonder if it might not be time to examine whether a similar mechanism in the Animal Health Protection Act might yield a more responsive funding mechanism to facilitate a quicker, and perhaps a cheaper and more effective response.

I now yield to the Ranking Member, Mr. Costa for his opening statement.
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