During the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak in the United States in 2015 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) formed the Composting Technical Team to establish standard operating procedures to ensure the safe and efficient composting of the infected poultry carcasses. By the end of the outbreak, 50 million birds had died with 85% of them being composted on the impacted poultry farm. A recent economic analysis by USDA determined that the composting procedure cost on average $0.26 per pound of bird. Although an economic analysis of landfilling and incineration has not been completed, anecdotal information suggests that landfilling and incineration, the other methods used during the outbreak, are both considerably more expensive.
Last week the Composting Technical Committee completed a standard operating procedure for composting livestock in response to terrestrial animal diseases like foot and mouth disease, African swine fever, Bluetongue, sheep pox and goat pox. The document, Composting Livestock 2017: Livestock Mortality Composting Protocol is now available on USDA’s website. We began working on the document in January and I am pleased that we were able to publish the document in just a little over 6 months. The document describes the technical process of composting livestock in a practical and biosecure manner to inactivate the disease causing pathogen.
Although our team prepared the document for a specific purpose—compositing livestock infected with a terrestrial animal disease in the United States—it can support animal carcass management activities in many other situations and environments. Earlier this year thousands of cattle died when fast-moving wildfires spread across parts of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas. Other natural disasters like blizzards and hurricanes can also result in the death of many livestock. The new livestock composting protocol will help with the development of disposal strategies for these disasters.
One of my main priorities over the next 12 months is to work on developing carcass management strategies that are practical in developing nations where more resource intensive disposal methods would not be appropriate. For centuries burial has been the main method used to manage animal carcasses. Although burial may be appropriate in some environments, where groundwater is shallow and soils well drained, burial can result in the contamination of groundwater resources which are vital to local communities who rely on groundwater for drinking and watering their livestock.
To be more practical for agricultural emergency responders in developing nations, the composting methods outlined in the livestock composting protocol could be modified to match local conditions and resources. Additionally, I have worked to develop a method of aboveground burial that can be implemented under a wide range of conditions which offers greater environmental protection than traditional burial methods. Earlier this year it was implemented in Tunisia to dispose of 111 sheep infected with Foot and Mouth Diseases, Peste des Petits Ruminants Virus and Blue Tongue Virus.
As I continue to work to develop carcass management strategies that are practical globally, I hope to increase collaboration with organizations like the Food and Animal Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and representative from individual countries who are interested in improving their preparedness for terrestrial animal diseases and natural disasters impacting animal agriculture. If you have an interest in carcass management and would be interested in collaboration, I would love to hear from you.