This article was previously published in Bird Breeder magazine and is reprinted here with permission of the author.
IAS Voluntary Standards Seminar
by Laurella Desborough
Proposed Voluntary Standards for Bird Farms
At the convention of the International Aviculturists Society (IAS) held in Orlando, Florida, in March, an evening seminar discussed proposed voluntary standards for aviculture that would require testing and vaccinating breeding flocks and young birds offered for sale. Two of the goals proposed in the Introduction to Voluntary Standards were a "specific pathogen disease-free flock" and "to identify premium, specific pathogen-free companion birds." The issues giving rise to the proposed standards appear to be four-fold: the sale of unweaned babies to the general (inexperienced) public, unhappy buyers with unhealthy birds (both individuals and stores), the concern about product liability lawsuits as a result of psittacosis (avian chlamydiosis) and an interest in improving the quality of avicultural products.
The Proposed Voluntary Standards
Following are some of the proposed standards that had been put forward for discussion at IAS:
The breeding flock will have been tested for psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD); greater than 90 percent of the flock of Old World species will have been tested. Appropriate measures will be taken with PBFD-positive birds. When an approved PBFD vaccine becomes available, all birds leaving the facility will be vaccinated for PBFD.
All parrots leaving the facility will be vaccinated for polyomavirus.
A USDA-accredited veterinarian visually inspects and evaluates the flock yearly with corrective measures taken as appropriate.
All birds (weighing over __ grams) are permanently identified before leaving the avicultural facility.
Only weaned birds are transferred to inexperienced recipients or noncertified facilities.
All birds leaving the facility are to be serologically test for Chlamydia psittaci.
In the case of positive serology, the test is to be repeated in two weeks. If titers are rising, appropriate treatment should be instituted.
All birds leaving the facility should test negative for proventricular dilitation disease (PDD) when appropriate testing becomes available.
Accurate records are maintained of all bird-related transactions to aid in the identification of sources of infected birds and potentially exposed persons.
Deaths in the flock will undergo necropsy followed by a complete histopathological evaluation.
All young birds, during the weaning process, are accommodated to formulated diets to the extent that they recognize same as a food source.
Information regarding parentage is to be provided for birds leaving the facility.
A written sales or transfer contract is provided, including a limited guarantee.
Instructions are provided to the purchaser regarding the care of the bird.
Rationale For Proposed Standards
It is not possible in the space of this column to address each of the 13 proposed standards. However, some aspects of the proposed standards need to be considered. First, do these standards address the real problems of the pet bird industry? Second, what are the real problems of the pet bird industry? Third, in order to address these questions, what is the specific nature of the pet bird industry? It seems rational that you can use testing and vaccinating protocols most wisely when you have answers to these questions. If these proposed voluntary standards are to be put forward in a document that stands on its own and supports the industry, then the document needs to address the broad concerns existing within the avicultural industry. It is not enough to address disease prevention; the other aspects of flock management must be addressed: diet, housing, record-keeping, hand-rearing, avicultural management of the flock, safety systems, services, marketing and public relations.
Specific Concerns That Need To Be Addressed
As stated at the meeting, these voluntary standards will not apply to any birds weighing less than 40 grams. However, populations of birds 40 grams and under are where infectious agents such as polyomavirus, PBFD and Chlamydia psittaci are commonly found. Out of these same populations, young birds are routinely provided to pet stores where they will reside in the same environment with parrots weighing more than 40 grams. The IAS published information with the proposed standards that in 1997 the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicated that there were 1,132 reported cases of psittacosis in humans between 1985 and 1995. Some of these cases are indicated as originating from a pet bird, while the origin of others is poultry processing plants. Over a 10-year period, that is an average of 113 people per year. Just for comparison, the U.S. CDC states there is a projected 4.5 million cases of dog bite victims who will go to an emergency room for treatment in 1998 (based on past annual figures).
State Veterinarians' Concerns
The IAS published information stating that USDA state veterinarians are receiving a considerable number of phone calls from individuals complaining that they have purchased exotic birds that have proven to be unhealthy, become sick or have died. The veterinarians have reportedly stated that the number of calls regarding birds are far greater than for other industries such as beef, swine or poultry. This has prompted veterinarians in some states to consider proposing state regulations and/or legislation on exotic birds to control this problem. (Apparently, the USDA veterinarian for Georgia has already made a proposal regarding testing birds imported into Georgia prior to shipment.) It should be obvious that people do not call to complain about their "pet" cow, because there are none. We eat cows. People rarely call to complain about the dogs they purchase that die of Parvo. Similar basic problems are encountered with all animals sold as pets. However, birds seem to be closer to people's hearts and trigger a stronger emotional response, causing the owners of sick birds to take action. A soon-to-be published research study indicates that bird owners are apparently more committed to their pets, evidence more concern and have strong emotional ties to their birds. (We will review this study after it is published.)
Product Liability Lawsuits
The reaction of some members of the avicultural community to the product liability lawsuit in New Jersey with a reported settlement of $400,000 has been strong. According to attorneys who deal with these cases, such lawsuits are not new. When a seller offers a bird for sale, the assumption is that the bird being offered is healthy (unless the seller makes it clear that it is not). There have been other lawsuits on the sale of purportedly unhealthy birds in the U.S. Even with testing, diseases may occur, and lawsuits may result. Proactive protection for bird breeders is two-fold: a good contract and a business liability insurance policy.
Business Liability Insurance
In order to have protection against product liability lawsuits, it is recommended that bird breeders carry a business liability insurance policy. At present, many small bird breeders have assumed that a homeowner's insurance policy would cover them in the event of a suit related to their bird business. However, insurance companies in the Eastern U.S. are not renewing homeowner policies when the homeowner discloses that they have a business in the home, whether or not it involves breeding birds. A report published by Bird Clubs of America on this matter indicates that the Farm Bureau offers insurance assistance to its members. Reading this report may provide further information on this problem. (For more information, send an e-mail to email@example.com.)
The Proposed Voluntary Standards put forward by the IAS involve noble goals springing from a serious concern for the health of exotic birds, involve a grand effort to make positive changes in the disease arena and seek to improve the pet bird industry. When these standards have gone through further refinement and are coupled with the other equally important areas of flock management, they will offer great value to the avicultural community.