West Virginia lifts poultry exhibit ban

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Farm and Dairy file photo.

SALEM, Ohio — West Virginia has become the first state in the area to lift its ban on gatherings of live poultry.

Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick lifted his ban in a Nov. 10 announcement. The ban had been in effect since mid-May, in the wake of an of avian influenza outbreak that affected 21 states and 50 million birds, making it the largest animal health incident in U.S. history.

Although the disease has not shown to affect human health, the economic impact of the disease was immense, causing West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania to enact poultry exhibit bans over the summer, to protect flocks in those states.

The ban in Ohio and Pennsylvania continues, although officials from both states are still monitoring the situation, and expect to know more by the first of the year.

“The ban continues and will be in effect for the 2016 Farm Show,” said William Nichols, spokesperson at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “We will re-evaluate the ban next year. While Pennsylvania has not been impacted by the HPAI virus to date, we continue to do everything we can to safeguard our state’s poultry industry.”

The Ohio Department of Agriculture, likewise, continues to monitor the situation, and the fall migration of birds. State Veterinarian Tony Forshey told Farm and Dairy in October, that a decision could come sometime around the beginning of the new year.

Exercise caution

Even though West Virginia has lifted its ban, the state ag director is still telling producers and bird owners to exercise caution — and good biosecurity.

“We are still urging all poultry producers to be on high alert for signs of avian influenza in their flocks, whether they have commercial poultry houses or just a small backyard flock,” said Helmick. “The WVDA continues to monitor the animal disease situation at the national and international level on a daily basis and this ban could be imposed again at any time.”

No new cases of AI have been reported since mid-June, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture concluded response actions at affected farms.

However, experts think wild birds may continuously carry such viruses and the risk for a reappearance in domesticated fowl is a distinct possibility.

Major industry

Although West Virginia was not among the states affected earlier this year, its most valuable agriculture sector is commercial poultry.

The broiler (meat chicken) industry is centered in the Eastern Panhandle, near the Pilgrim’s Pride processing plant in Moorefield. The poultry sector also includes meat turkeys and egg production associated with both types of birds.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the combined value at $355 million. A substantial turkey genetics operation in Greenbrier County is not included in USDA’s statistics.

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture tests every commercial flock for AI before they are moved from their houses, ensuring that sick birds are not trucked past other poultry farms in the region.

“We have the staff and equipment to turn samples around within four hours, which is something the industry really appreciates,” said West Virginia State Veterinarian Dr. Jewell Plumley.

Positive tests

Any presumptive positive tests must be  confirmed by USDA’s National Veterinary Service Laboratory, she noted. Because they typically roam outdoors, backyard flocks are more likely to come into contact with wild birds that serve as reservoirs for AI viruses.

Commercial poultry are housed indoors exclusively, which reduces the chance of coming into contact with wild birds or the waterways they frequent.

Biosecurity practices to prevent the introduction or spread of AI are important to both commercial and backyard poultry farms.

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