The US poultry and egg industries have long utilized NPIP program standards, definitions, and health status classifications as its primary means for representing, bettering, protecting, and governing the health of US poultry. NPIP is a voluntary program whose primary authority resides at the point of sale or interstate movement. Sanctioned exhibitions involving Breeding Poultry also often require specified NPIP certifications of its participants. While participation in NPIP is open and encouraged for poultry operations of all shapes and sizes, NPIP makes a special effort to differentiate between commercial and non-commercial operations. This differentiation is critical to enable officially-recognized health or program status claims for one or all commercial operations or industry subparts in a given supply chain, area, or state. Participants and NPIP Official State Agencies determine which NPIP classifications or programs to pursue for their operations or state. State departments of agriculture administrative rules related to items of poultry health are generally aligned with and/or reference the requirements set forth by the NPIP. Private entities engaging in the distribution of poultry (live birds or fresh meat products) or eggs across state lines, or internationally, are NPIP’s principal participants. The entities responsible for selling or distributing the birds, poultry, or eggs hold the NPIP certifications.
NPIP’s primary emphasis since its inception in 1935 has been controlling and certifying Breeding Poultry as being free of specified vertically transmitted diseases. Poultry breeders, multipliers, and hatcheries use the NPIP health status classifications as an officially recognized means of representing the health status of their flocks, eggs, or chicks to customers, exhibition officials, and state and federal animal health officials and agencies. NPIP’s H5/H7 Avian Influenza Monitored classification established in 2006 is the only NPIP certification directly applicable to Commercial Poultry. Participating table egg laying flocks, meat-type chicken slaughter plants, meat-type turkey slaughter plants, commercial upland game birds, commercial waterfowl, and raised for release upland game birds and waterfowl are the principal holders of the H5/H7 Avian Influenza Monitored classification. Participating meat-type chicken and turkey slaughter plants are responsible for ensuring compliance within their respective supply chains. Each NPIP participant is responsible for meeting the requirements of the NPIP certifications they hold or desire to obtain. States can claim an Avian Influenza Clean or H5/H7 Avian Influenza Clean by each respective poultry and egg industry subpart (e.g., type of poultry or egg operation) and participant within their state. Such officially recognized AIV-related health status classifications have played a critical role in demonstrating evidence of freedom of disease, and supporting poultry and egg industry exports and interstate commerce during periods of high or low-pathogenic AIV outbreaks in the US.
The possibility of an NPIP like program for the US pork industry (i.e., US Swine Health Improvement Plan) raises considerations for US pork industry stakeholders, state animal health officials, and leadership within USDA APHIS Veterinary Services. Industry needs, the human and financial resources required, and the potential benefits and liabilities must all be carefully considered. It is well recognized that most substantive regional or industry-wide animal health-related undertakings either come out of an industry-changing crisis, fear of such an event based on changing states of risk or knowledge, or other very fundamental shift in a given market or industry.
The US pork industry has evolved, improved, and changed radically over the last two generations of pork producers. Experiences and ongoing risks associated with the intercontinental movement of disease agents, the advent and subsequent widespread adoption of multi-site production methodologies, and an increased dependence on export markets, are among the most significant factors influencing the overall landscape of and impact of swine health on the US pork industry. TID-related market risks and the burden of recurring endemic diseases of high consequence are grand challenges beyond the power or ability of any one approach, strategy, entity, or organization to solve. Establishing a US Swine Health Improvement Plan could provide a tangible, structured, realistic, and industry-driven approach for making stepwise progress in addressing these complex challenges. Proactively establishing the development of working and officially recognized systems, certifications, test methods, and practical diagnostic regimens for demonstrating freedom of TIDs (ASF, CSF, or FMD) across supply chains, areas, states, and regions to support regionalization efforts throughout the Recovery phase following a TID incursion into the US, would be invaluable.
Systems of traceability and routine biosecurity (sanitary) practices are important components of TID preparedness and in better positioning the industry to mitigate the impact of REDs. Incorporating baseline traceability and sanitary standards into a voluntary health status certification program would have a significant impact across supply chains, states, regions, or entire US pork industry. The same systems, practices, and structure advanced to mitigate TID-related market risks, would also better position the US pork industry to make stepwise progress toward reducing the impact of REDs of high consequence.
Establishing such an officially recognized and broadly represented industry, state, and federal partnership would also provide industry stakeholders a forum to engage in substantive dialogue with state and federal animal health agencies, and most directly influence swine health related program or policy related issues of high relevance to the US pork industry. The NPIP model, built upon developing nationally recognized standards, definitions, and certifications for poultry health that can be adopted by participating producers, slaughter facilities, and states, also carries the benefit of mitigating a patchwork of potentially unwarranted state-by-state variability. The well respected and broadly democratic nature of the procedures involved in continually updating the NPIP–a process that includes representation from subject matter experts, industry stakeholders, and state and federal animal health officials–has proven useful in creating a sense of shared ownership in such decisions and program definitions. This well structured and shared governance approach towards deriving officially recognized certifications, definitions, and standards in the NPIP are also thought to have value in mitigating unwarranted legislative or politically motivated changes to state and federal poultry health related rules or standards.
Developing, initiating, and operating a US Swine Health Improvement Plan would require industry-driven leadership, collaboration, work, and sustained efforts on behalf of industry participants, state animal health officials and respective agencies, and the USDA Veterinary Services. The majority of the work, effort, and resources necessary to establish, maintain, and effectively implement such an effort would largely be additive to the status-quo. While the implementation of such a program would likely be very straight-forward and operational in nature, the process for deriving, defining, and continually updating the programs content and scope via a democratic forum of peers is not commonly a work task of choice among agriculturalists, veterinarians, and scientists.
Crafting program language, definitions, and standards that effectively achieve a primary intent or purpose, while being very practical, broadly applicable, and agreeable across a diverse group of industry stakeholders, is no easy task. Debate, disagreement, and compromise are common in any type of democratic process of consequence. The benefit of the NPIP model is that it is a forum of stakeholders directly responsible for crafting, debating, and deciding upon matters that have a direct impact on their own industry. Albeit not easy or without substantive effort, NPIP’s model of shared governance seems to have served the US poultry and egg industries well. Perhaps the largest deterrent for pursuing any type of industry initiated effort to develop more officially recognized definitions, standards, or certifications related to swine health, would arise from concerns over consequences that resulting requirements or rules would negatively impinge participating operations. As mentioned previously, attaining any type of officially recognized certificate or standard that causes a participating entity to comply with a specified set of requirements has consequences.
Any specified standard that impacts freedom of a participating entity’s choice related to any type of management or biosecurity practice, health status requirement, or that can influence how, where, or under what specified conditions pigs move between premises, across state lines, or to points of concentration, has consequences. In short, the pursuant of having any type of officially recognized certification or program with specified requirements has consequences. The benefits of pursuing and participating in any such officially recognized program with defined standards or requirements has to be weighed against the costs and consequences of participation. Participation and/or the degree of participation (levels of specified certifications) in any type of health status certification program would likely be expected to vary by region, industry segment, and participant.
Sustaining access to export markets, rearing healthy hogs, reducing costs of production, and enhancing the long-term sustainability and profitability of the US pork industry are commonly held objectives across the broad spectrum of participants in the US pork industry. US poultry and egg producers and slaughter plants share similar goals and objectives for their own industries and operations. Such interests, goals, urgencies for continuous improvement, and changing domestic and international consumer demands are unlikely to disappear in the future.
Globalization, multi-site production, and a markedly increased dependence on exports have each contributed to a substantial change in the overall landscape of swine health and TID-related market risks in the US pork industry. It seems arguable that investments in animal health related systems and infrastructure that extend beyond an individual producer’s farm gate have not kept pace with the needs of such a highly mobile, interconnected, and export centric industry. The findings of this case study provide US pork industry stakeholders some insight into the NPIP’s role in reducing the impact of endemic diseases of high consequence in the US poultry and egg industries, and its more recent expansion and pivot towards mitigating TID-related market risks. The findings of this case study suggest that there are some nuggets of knowledge in the US poultry and egg industries’ experience and approach with NPIP that could benefit the US pork industry.