Dried chicken litter not likely cause of HPAI in dairy cows

AFIA, AAFCO, USDA, FDA dispute that the feeding of the approved ingredients is responsible for the spread of HPAI on dairy farms.

Sarah Muirhead, Editor, Feedstuffs

May 3, 2024

3 Min Read

The feed industry and regulatory officials are challenging media reports alleging that the HPAI virus has spread to dairy cattle as a result of the consumption of chicken litter on farms. 

Neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture nor the Food & Drug Administration have found a link to HPAI virus transmission in dairy cattle through chicken litter. Wild migratory birds are widely thought to be the likely cause of the transmission.

FDA also has stated that chicken litter does not pose an animal or public health threat warranting usage restrictions. 

The American Feed Industry Association said in a statement that while dried poultry litter and waste are safe, approved feed ingredients, they are not widely used in dairy diets. 

Listen to our interview with AAFCO's Austin Therrell

“We are concerned with recent sensational headlines and articles falsely accusing feeding practices of spreading the HPAI virus on dairy farms without fully disclosing the facts. As an association representing the total feed industry, we would like to set the record straight,” said AFIA President and CEO Constance Cullman. She pointed out that on a call last week USDA’s chief veterinary officer and deputy administrator for veterinary services confirmed to stakeholders that nothing leaves the infected premises of an HPAI-impacted poultry farm, including poultry litter or waste to be used for crop fertilizer or feed.

While it is theoretically possible, it is very unlikely the illness was spread through animal feed, said Austin Therrell, executive director of the Association of American Feed Control Officials.

"The AAFCO Ingredient Request Process is extremely rigorous and transparent. It includes a scientific review by FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, as well as approval from a majority of state regulators. This regulatory pathway takes into account many potential food safety hazards to ensure that ingredients that gain approval can be safely and effectively marketed for use in animal food in the U.S.

"Dried Poultry Litter or Waste has been approved as a commercial feed ingredient by AAFCO since 1982, and while it's not widely used, poultry litter can be a great alternative for cattle to promote sustainability while still gaining a nutritional benefit for the animals," Therrell said.

Therrell also noted that there are extensive preventive food safety measures required for all animal foods by the Food Safety Modernization Act. The AAFCO Official Publication reinforces these protocols by specifying that manufacturers of processed animal waste products are required to test and maintain records to show that products like dried poultry litter do not contain:

  • Drugs suspected or known to be used in the feed or as a therapeutic treatment of source animals.

  • Pesticides used on the source animal, facility and wastes for pest control.

  • Pathogenic organisms, at least to include Salmonella and E. coli.

  • Heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury and selenium, at least.

  • Parasitic larva or ova.

  • Mycotoxins, such as aflatoxin.

"AAFCO and its members are committed to working with the animal food industry, as well as producers across the U.S., to ensure that we continue to have the safest food supply in the world. Our vision is to be the trusted leader that safeguards animal and human health, and we will continue to do our part to make sure that hardworking American farmers do not have to worry about the safety of the products they are feeding their animals," said Therrell.

“The animal food industry is committed to supporting the nation’s poultry and dairy farmers throughout this animal health crisis and is enhancing feed mill biosecurity programs to help curb the HPAI virus’s spread. Let’s not vilify the hardworking farmers with false allegations while they are dealing with the emotional toll of caring for sick animals and working their hardest to ensure a safe food supply for Americans,” said Cullman.

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