Accreditation marks milestone as lab prepares for avian disease outbreaks
COLUMBIA — A new accreditation for the Clemson University Veterinary Diagnostic Center is another step in preparation for the possibility of an outbreak of avian influenza or other animal diseases.
The laboratory, which is charged with identifying strains of animal disease, has earned ISO 17025:2005 accreditation from the International Organization for Standardization, a level which certifies that the lab meets all international standards for testing, sampling and calibration.
“This is the first time the diagnostic center has achieved this accreditation and it speaks to the level of preparedness we have to address health emergencies,” said Boyd Parr, state veterinarian and director of Clemson Livestock Poultry Health, the state regulatory agency of which the diagnostic center is a part. “ISO 17025 accreditation is internationally recognized and is held in very high regard. Director Joe Hill and his staff worked very hard to achieve this milestone.”
The distinction comes as the agency is monitoring the state for HPAI, or highly pathogenic avian influenza. The disease is not currently a threat to people, but it can be lethal to poultry, having caused an estimated $1.2 billion in damage in 2015 just in Iowa alone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture spent $1 billion combatting the virus so far last year in states as far-flung as Arkansas and Oregon.
USDA Wildlife Services is monitoring wild waterfowl during their current migration and so far has not identified any HPAI with the Eurasian gene under the Atlantic flyway, which passes through South Carolina. Should HPAI emerge in the Atlantic flyway, the challenge in the Palmetto State will be to keep the virus from making the jump into domestic flocks.
If the diagnostic center confirms the disease in South Carolina poultry, Clemson Livestock Poultry Health will work with producers rapidly to depopulate and safely dispose of infected flocks if necessary.
“Our first priority is prevention. We’re working with producers to help them practice good biosecurity and monitor their birds closely for signs and symptoms of disease,” Parr said. “The Veterinary Diagnostic Center is an integral part of our disease surveillance system. In any suspicious case, we depend on the center’s diagnosis so that we can provide the appropriate response swiftly.”
The importance of that surveillance system is also among the reasons Clemson Livestock Poultry Health has sought additional state funding to add more animal health inspectors and laboratory technicians as the state’s agricultural enterprises face an increasing array of pathogenic threats. The Clemson Veterinary Diagnostic Center is the only facility in the state that provides full necropsy services for livestock and poultry, which comprise the majority of South Carolina’s agricultural income.
Nowhere is that threat felt more keenly than in the poultry industry, which annually earns more than $12 billion in South Carolina — more than a quarter of the total economic impact of the state’s agribusiness.
“There are more than 800 commercial poultry farms with more than 3,350 active houses in our state,” Parr said. “If HPAI does arrive, the potential impact is severe and the financial stakes are very high.”
Columbia-based Livestock Poultry Health is charged with protecting animal health, investigating disease and safeguarding consumers. Its lab and inspection responsibilities extend across more than 12,000 S.C. livestock and poultry farms. With the capability to perform necropsy, histopathology, bacteriology, virology and serology, the diagnostic center also assists veterinarians, animal industry and animal owners with livestock, poultry, companion animal and wildlife disease problems.
The ISO accreditation it earned through Perry Johnson Laboratory Accreditation Inc. is used by labs in assessing their management systems for quality, administrative and technical operations. Laboratories, regulatory authorities and accreditation bodies also use it in confirming the competence of laboratories with which they work.