As a farmer cooperative, United Egg Producers (UEP) is the voice of egg farmers who independently produce more than 90 percent of all eggs in the U.S. Today, we use that voice to say thank you to the thousands of people who have supported egg farmers during the worst crisis in our history.
The past few months have been devastating for the U.S. egg community, especially in Midwestern states. We have been consumed in a tireless battle against highly pathogenic avian influenza (AI). This outbreak was unprecedented in its rapid spread and in the difficulty of identifying how it spread. Egg farmers have been fighting a dangerous enemy – one they could not see.
Since mid-April, about 12 percent of the U.S. commercial layer flock has been lost, including 36 million hens and six million pullets in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin; the unprecedented spread of this virus was as indiscriminate as it was fast.
Those farms affected by AI have accomplished a multitude of seemingly impossible tasks – managing hen mortality, euthanizing entire flocks, identifying and securing responsible disposal options, and beginning the arduous process of cleaning and disinfecting barns. Throughout this devastating time, farmers showed utmost concern for care and safety of their hens, employees, communities, and countless contractors and volunteers. We are confident the flocks will repopulate, and these family businesses will rebuild.
To list all who have helped would be overwhelming. The outpouring of support ranges from emergency funding by Congress and USDA to rural communities which organized food for farm workers. We certainly must recognize USDA-APHIS, federal and state officials for their leadership, swift response and hard work. The government stepped up when needed for support, guidance and on-the-ground resources. For that, we are extremely grateful.
Early in the AI crisis, UEP members and staff prioritized three areas to research and develop direction, with our goal to support egg farmers, limit further spread of AI and curb future outbreaks.
In biosecurity, we can do more, and we are doing more. Egg farms are tightening vehicle restrictions, increasing disinfection procedures, and expanding worker training. UEP distilled chapters of biosecurity recommendations from USDA APHIS, and the American Egg Board distributed producer-friendly documents to every commercial egg farmer. Ideas to increase biosecurity range from minor procedural shifts to large investments in equipment and facilities. Every egg farmer is urged to consider these recommendations to heighten disease prevention and amplify a culture of increased biosecurity.
Therefore, UEP has launched an aggressive campaign seeking additional indemnity funds from USDA. This campaign is currently ongoing and we are hopeful USDA will soon recognize that these additional funds are needed in order for these egg farms to survive.
In preparation for the future, UEP is also cooperating with poultry scientists, avian disease prevention experts and epidemiologists to determine what caused this disease to spread so widely and so rapidly. More importantly, we want to determine how we can prevent a situation like this from recurring.
While we’re still assessing the full consequences of AI, there are a few things we know for certain.
While we feel some relief in that there have been no new detections since early June, our vigilance cannot and will not stop.
Our farms and their employees, rural communities and egg customers have suffered an unprecedented blow this year; this cannot happen again. We pledge our best efforts to overcome this virus and re-build a healthy and viable egg industry. It is vital that we work diligently and collaboratively to prevent more harm to the egg and poultry community.
I am proud to work for an organization that, even amidst crisis, takes a proactive, positive and constructive approach. UEP is truly led by egg farmers – for egg farmers. Over the past few months, our members have rallied together, prayed together, cried together and fought this disease together. At a time when we are so weakened, the egg community still has never been stronger.
Again, thank you. The outpouring of support has been invaluable during this very difficult time.
– Chad Gregory, President & CEO, United Egg Producers
– As printed in Feedstuffs, July 27, 2015