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.
The Composting Technical Committee also 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. 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.
One of my main priorities over the next 12 months is to continue working on carcass disposal options for developing nations where 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 Above Ground Burial that can be implemented under a wide range of conditions which offers greater environmental protection than traditional burial methods. This method 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 representatives 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.