ST. LOUIS -- With the recent cases discovered in Iraq, Europe and elsewhere, avian influenza has been a hot topic in the news lately, but it does not currently affect the health and safety of U.S. poultry. The soybean checkoff is working with other agricultural groups to make sure this stays that way.

"U.S. poultry has no cases of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus," says Phil Bradshaw, USB Animal Agriculture Initiative (AAI) Team Lead and soybean farmer from Griggsville, Ill. "It is important to stress that U.S. poultry production is safe and a high-quality product when prepared correctly."

While avian flu is not currently a threat to the United States, the soybean checkoff is not forgetting countries that are afflicted with the virus. Few problems with avian influenza have been experienced in poultry industries that have incorporated checkoff-recommended production practices. Avian influenza is more of a problem in nonconfined poultry units. U.S. Soybean Export Council is working with a number of countries on avian-flu-related issues.

"The soybean checkoff has worked with countries to reduce the problems associated with avian influenza, and we will continue to do all we can to help ease the impact of this virus," says Benny Cooper, USB International Marketing Committee Chair and soybean farmer from Kevil, Ky.

In Romania, avian flu outbreaks and concerns led to a 10 percent to 25 percent decrease in production numbers in the poultry and feed industries. Despite avian-flu concerns, Transavia, one of the top poultry companies in Romania, will invest $12 million in a new project with a goal of doubling its production and processing capacities. Transavia benefited from checkoff-funded technical assistance and will open a new full-fat-soybean processing plant in early 2006.

Egypt is so far free of avian flu, but news of outbreaks within the region led to reduced prices for chicken and eggs. Price cuts maintained consumption levels but led to losses of $1 million per day for the Egyptian poultry industry. Checkoff representatives are working with Egyptian poultry leaders in launching a public relations campaign telling consumers that they face no threat from avian flu.

The impact of avian flu in China has varied greatly. Although some companies have been hit hard, overall it seems that soybean meal demand has continued to grow. Perhaps increased pork demand has helped fill the void created by avian flu.

In addition, the U.S. Grains Council, along with the U.S. Soybean Export Council and U.S.A. Poultry and Egg Export Council, is requesting federal funding to develop a promotional campaign to increase poultry consumption. The program would state that poultry is healthy and safe to eat and would cover Russia, the Middle East and North Africa, if approved.

USB is made up of 64 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. Checkoff funds are invested in the areas of animal utilization, human utilization, industrial utilization, industry relations, market access and supply. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Customer Information Act, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.

SOURCE: USB news release.