Senate Chicken Caucus co-chair Chris Coons (D-DE) appeared this week on an episode of the Bloomberg Odd Lots podcast focused on the U.S. chicken industry and the 2022-2023 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak. Senator Coons also focused on the significance of the Senate Chicken Caucus and his role as co-chair heading into the crafting of the 2023 Farm Bill.

“Well the [Senate Chicken Caucus] recognizes that chicken is a really important agricultural product for all of the United States,” Senator Coons said of the caucus. “It’s critical to my home state of Delaware, but across the country, there are 300,000 people who work in the poultry industry, it generates about $45 billion a year, and there are major operations in about 30 states.”

“But instead of our having a common and cohesive voice in the Senate, when I got here 13 years ago, there really wasn’t that,” he said of the Caucus’ founding. “So, my dear friend, our late colleague Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and I launched the [Senate Chicken Caucus] in 2013. Part of this is home state interests for me: Delaware has 200 times more chickens than people. It generates about $7 billion a year in economic activity for my state. It really defines agriculture in Delaware and in fact, this year we’re celebrating the century of the broiler chicken industry in Delaware.”

Speaking about the recent HPAI outbreak, Senator Coons described his recently introduced legislation, known as the Health Poultry Assistance and Indemnification (HPAI) Act, which would allow all growers within a zone around an infected flock to receive USDA assistance.

“It essentially says if you undergo the same financial struggles, you’ll get the same compensation [from USDA] if you’re within that six mile radius and your economic activity is harmed that you would if you had actually had a positive outbreak in your flock,” Senator Coons said. “It also simplifies the way that you calculate the indemnity payments so that growers have greater security.”

Under current APHIS policies, all poultry farms located within 10-kilometer radius of a HPAI case are disallowed from placing flocks until the virus is contained. Afterward, all growers who have positive tests in their flocks receive compensation from the USDA, but not those within the 10-kilometer control area whose flocks don’t contract HPAI. As a result, while these growers undergo many of the same financial struggles as those whose flocks contract the virus, they aren’t compensated for their compliance with efforts to help contain HPAI. This bill would change USDA policy such that all growers in the control area are eligible for HPAI indemnity assistance.

Introduced alongside his fellow Senate Chicken Caucus co-chair Roger Wicker (R-MS), Senator Coons said the following upon the bill’s introduction in June:

“Delaware has the largest per capita chicken industry in the country, and Delaware’s independent family farmers and poultry growers are all too aware of the harm avian flu can cause after last year’s outbreak,” Senator Coons said. “This bipartisan bill would ensure that every farmer who does their part to contain an outbreak is fairly compensated for their financial harm, and it simplifies the compensation process so farmers can get back on their feet quickly after losing their flock. As Co-Chair of the Senate Chicken Caucus, I urge my colleagues to support this bill that will ensure a robust poultry supply chain, keep food costs low, and assist our hardworking farmers.”

In addition to Senators Coons and Wicker, this legislation is cosponsored by Senators John Boozman (R-AR), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), John Fetterman (D-PA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Pete Ricketts (R-NE), Tina Smith (D-MN), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Mark Alford (R-MO) have also introduced a companion bill in the House. Reps. Trent Kelly (R-MS), Barry Moore (R-AL), Brad Finstad (R-MN), Austin Scott (R-GA), Michael Guest (R-MS), David Rouzer (R-NC), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), as well as Congressional Chicken Caucus co-chairs Reps. Jim Costa (D-CA) and Steve Womack (R-AR), have endorsed the House companion bill.

The National Chicken Council has endorsed both bills.

Bloomberg’s Odd Lots podcast episode featuring Senator Coons can be found here.