SALEM, Ohio — A healthy bird population and a favorable report from the World Organization for Animal Health has led officials at the Ohio Department of Agriculture to lift the statewide ban on poultry exhibits and gatherings.
The ag department announced the decision Dec. 17, following a ban on bird shows, gatherings and auctions, that went into effect June 2 to stem the spread of bird flu. It was originally intended to run through April 2016.
The ban was put in place to help stop the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza, which wreaked havoc for poultry producers across Western and Midwestern states, but was never found in Ohio. More than 48 million birds were affected by bird flu, costing the poultry industry more than $1 billion in losses.
“We dodged a bullet,” said State Veterinarian Tony Forshey. “Our precautions we put in place certainly had a lot to do with that.”
In addition to the ban on shows and sales, producers and bird handlers were encouraged to exercise good biosecurity practices, and are encouraged to continue those practices into the future.
The U.S. hasn’t reported an outbreak since June, and the World Organization for Animal Health announced Nov. 18, that “the outbreaks in all affected states are now final, closed, and resolved. This now makes the United States free of avian influenza for the time being.”
But state officials say it’s important to continue the same biosecurity practices, to prevent this and other diseases from re-occurring. The spring migration of birds is just around the corner, and poses another risk.
“While the intention is to allow bird exhibitions to be held next year, an outbreak in Ohio or nearby states may require the reinstatement or even an extension of the ban,” ODA cautions.
Ohio Ag Director David Daniels, in a statement to media, said Ohio is home to 50 million domestic birds, which makes the state particularly vulnerable.
“Thankfully, the disease never took hold here,” he said. “I believe this is a justification of the steps taken by our producers and exhibitors to mitigate the risk of an outbreak.”
The ban continues in Pennsylvania and will be in effect for the 2016 Farm Show.
The ban caused thousands of 4-H and FFA poultry exhibitors to miss out on showing their birds at the fair, but most fairs substituted the live show with educational events, poster projects and still held an auction for the exhibitors.
“As I traveled around the state this summer, I was overwhelmed with the maturity and understanding of the disappointed but supportive young people I spoke with who were unable to bring their poultry projects to the fair,” Daniels said. “It’s a real testament to the strength and importance our 4-H and FFA programs in Ohio.”
Lucinda Miller, Ohio State University 4-H Extension specialist for companion and small animals, said about 10,000 youth showed poultry projects in 2014.
The decision to rescind the ban comes in time for youth to register for a new year of poultry projects, and to “have that hands-on, experiential learning” of producing and showing live birds. Miller said state agriculture and 4-H officials worked together to make the most of the situation this year, finding creative ways youth could still participate, and learn from their projects.
In fact, she said some fairs are considering ways to continue the educational programs they participated in this year — as a regular event.
The poultry project already requires youth to participate in quality assurance training, which includes biosecurity practices.
According to ODA, avian flu is an extremely contagious virus that primarily affects domestic poultry and is likely spread by wild, migrating birds. The USDA first confirmed the virus in the U.S. beginning in late 2014.
Ohio is the second largest egg producer in the country and home to 28 million laying chickens, 12 million broilers, 8.5 million pullets and 2 million turkeys. Ohio’s egg, chicken and turkey farms create more than 14,600 jobs and contribute $2.3 billion to the state’s economy.
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