Ohio bans poultry imports from two states

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SALEM, Ohio – Ohio poultry producers and hobbyists awaiting shipments of chicks or turkey poults from Virginia or North Carolina hatcheries should start looking for another supplier.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture implemented a ban May 9 on importing live chickens or turkeys from either state as a precautionary step to prevent the spread of avian influenza. The disease has lingered in Virginia since mid-March and was identified in North Carolina in April.

The ban, effective immediately, supplements Ohio regulations already in place allowing the refusal of poultry imports from quarantined farms or areas in Virginia and North Carolina. The ban will be lifted for each state 30 days after the last quarantine in each state is lifted.

A ban on imports from West Virginia is also likely, according to Ohio Department of Agriculture officials.

“We are taking this action to reduce the risk of exposing our poultry flocks to this devastating disease,” said Ohio Agriculture Director Fred Dailey.

Nationwide, Ohio ranks second in egg production and the number of layers, according to state agriculture statistics. The state also ranks 18th in broiler production and 11th in turkey production, totaling a $3.3 billion addition to the state’s economy.

Animal health. Avian influenza is highly contagious and has potential to devastate the state’s poultry production but poses no threat to human health.

The disease can be transmitted to poultry by inhaling influenza particles in nasal and respiratory secretions and feces of other poultry and waterfowl, as well as by contaminated vehicles, crates, equipment, and people.

The strains found in Virginia and North Carolina are categorized as “low-path,” or low mortality, which sicken the birds to the point where production is depressed. A state’s animal health officials may elect to quarantine and euthanize flocks if necessary.

West Virginia scare. A low-pathogen strain of the viral disease was detected in two breeder houses on a farm near Moorefield, W.Va., earlier this month, according to state Commissioner of Agriculture Gus R. Douglass. The farm and its occupants have been quarantined to prevent the spread of the disease to other poultry houses.

Approximately 13,900 birds are contained in the two houses.

Douglass declared an agricultural state of emergency, and directed his staff to begin making preparations for the depopulation and disposal of the affected birds.

Area companies that buy and process birds from contract growers have been taking periodic blood samples since an outbreak of the disease began in Virginia, and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture has been on a high state of alert during the situation.

Poultry is West Virginia’s leading agricultural commodity, adding $200 million annually to the economy and employing more than 5,000 people.

Avoid history repeat. Ohio’s Dailey is concerned the strain will mutate to one of the more virulent “high-path” strains, which happened in Pennsylvania in 1984 and resulted in the depopulation of 17 million birds.

In February 1997, a Lebanon County, Pa., flock was destroyed after the USDA confirmed the virus’ presence. In late May 1997, the state quarantined areas of Lancaster County, Pa., and nearly 400,000 chickens were destroyed after four flocks were confirmed to have the H7N2 strain of avian influenza.

More recently, the virus was detected in seven flocks totaling 170,000 birds in Union and Juniata counties in early December 2001 and January 2002.

Pennsylvania has not implemented source-specific bans, but requires all poultry and hatching eggs imported into Pennsylvania to come from flocks that participate in the national poultry improvement program; originate in a state that participates in avian influenza monitoring program; or originate from a flock where a minimum of 20 birds at least four weeks of age blood-tested negative for the disease within 10 days of shipment, according to Bruce Schmucker, veterinarian with the state department of agriculture.

“We perform constant surveillance on flocks in the state. Our antennas are always up because we feel they must be,” Schmucker said.

Other states. The Virginia outbreak has already resulted in the quarantine of 150 farms and the depopulation of more than 3.4 million birds.

In late April, North Carolina State Veterinarian David Marshall temporarily suspended all poultry exhibitions, sales and auctions in an effort to prevent the spread the disease.

According to Mike Blanton, assistant commissioner of external affairs for the N.C. state department of agriculture, the disease has been confirmed in three North Carolina commercial poultry flocks, as well as several quail and hobby flocks. The last flock was confirmed positive April 19 and since then, 50,000 birds have been destroyed.

“We’re still doing a lot of aggressive testing and surveillance in the areas of the three farms and in anything that comes across as suspicious.

“We continue to do everything in our power to prevent this from spreading and getting worse. A lot of people are doing a lot of work on this,” Blanton said.

Avian influenza has also been found in Maine, New York, and Connecticut within the past six months, according to Marshall.

For more information on avian influenza or the regulatory restrictions on importation of poultry from certain states, call the ODA Division of Animal Industry at 800-282-1955.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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