HPAI in 2023: “Induced” Losses Leave a Gap in the Federal Indemnity Scheme 

The one-year anniversary date of the current highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak passed in February 2023 and much of the U.S. agricultural industry hardly noticed. Animal health professionals certainly did as the wild fowl migration which they identified as the trigger of the diseases’ spread was rapidly approaching.  According to USDA’s database of HPAI 2022/2023 Confirmed Detections, January 2023 saw three scattered detections in commercial broilers or turkeys (Iowa, Tennessee and California), and two Kansas gamebird operations. The 2023 Spring months passed and by May 2023, commercial flock detections were zero and have remained so. The current outbreak seems to be at an end for the commercial poultry sector. 

All indications are that the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) HPAI Response Plan, otherwise simply known as “The Red Book,” and all the other USDA policy and guidance documents available to explain how and what USDA does in the event of an HPAI outbreak, served its function exceedingly well in explaining, coordinating and structuring USDA’s activities. For those entities who owned birds euthanized or eggs destroyed in the disease response activities, perhaps the most important USDA activity is that of indemnity (compensation for destroyed property) and compensation (reimbursement for services provided in the virus elimination process on the affected premises). 

This outbreak brought to the surface two key limitations of the current indemnification and compensation process: (1) contract growers without an ownership interest in the birds or eggs destroyed are not eligible despite a complete loss of revenue until production can resume after quarantine restrictions are lifted; and (2) ancillary business operations, e.g. breeders supplying chicks and poults, are not eligible for any compensation due to lost revenue from the cessation of production at infected or other premises under quarantine restrictions. This limitation is induced by the concentric circles of quarantine restrictions that stop product movement not only to infected premises but also to any poultry operation within the entire quarantined control zone imposed around an infected premise, i.e. the  “induced impact” of lost revenue from an infection. 

Relief in one state highly impacted by this HPAI outbreak, Pennsylvania (31 commercial flocks and 4.6 million birds euthanized), came in the form of an appropriation by the Pennsylvania General Assembly (Act 54 of 2022) of $25 million dollars for the “Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Recovery Reimbursement Grant” program. Administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, it is intended to “provide reimbursement to farms, integrators, and allied industries directly impacted by HPAI. This covers those who incurred demonstrable financial losses due to inclusion in a control or quarantine zone.”  

The program has been the subject to four completed rounds of funding conducted between September 2022 and June 2023, with a fifth round of applications being accepted until October 5, 2023. Losses compensable have included loss of income, payroll costs, costs related to the continuation of group health care benefits and health insurance premiums, mortgage interest payments, rent payments, utility payments, and working capital for the purpose of covering costs of re-opening farming operations after being fully or partially closed due to the state or federally mandated quarantine period. 

A federal bill attempting to address the same gap on a nationwide level, called the Healthy Poultry Assistance and Indemnification Act of 2023, has been introduced as S. 2235 by Senator Chris Coons (Del.).  It is presently in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.  

Time will tell if other states may begin to address this gap or whether a federal solution may be successfully implemented. 

Duer, Brook, and Paul Goeringer. “HPAI in 2023: “Induced” Losses Leave a Gap in the Federal Indemnity Scheme.Southern Ag Today 3(36.5). September 8, 2023. Permalink