Meat Industry INSIGHTS Newsletter

970607 Avian Flu Epidemic Threatens PA Poultry Industry

Thirteen years ago, an outbreak of avian influenza wiped out 17 million birds in three states. Now a new avian flu epidemic threatens Pennsylvania's $563 million poultry industry. The flu, harmless to humans but potentially devastating to chickens, turkeys and other fowl, has already infected 7 flocks in the heart of Amish country.

Since May 2, more than 836,000 birds have been destroyed in eastern Pennsylvania's Lancaster County to try to halt the disease. Tests reveal no new infections in the last two weeks, and officials believe the disease has been confined to the 75-square-mile quarantine area imposed May 16.

"For the farmers involved, this is not just an economic loss, it's a heart-wrenching personal loss," Gov. Tom Ridge said as he signed a $5 million appropriation to partially reimburse farmers for their losses.

One contract grower who raises 90,000 broiler chickens at a time for the Pennfield Corp., hopes the state's early, aggressive action will halt the epidemic. "We have to make it go away this time," he said. "We can't wait for it to go away -- it would eat us alive."

All commercial flocks in the area are being tested. All birds in infected flocks are destroyed and disposed of on farm property. Those farms must then be disinfected and sit idle for 30 days.

State police maintain 24-hour patrols, and any trucker hauling eggs or chickens from a farm in the quarantine region must have paperwork showing that farm is free of the virus.

The 1983-84 epidemic also infected flocks in Maryland and New Jersey. It cost $65 million to eradicate and sent poultry prices soaring.

The recent outbreak seems confined to one Pennsylvania county, but officials on the Delmarva Peninsula, comprising Delaware and parts of Maryland and Virginia, have warned their poultry farmers to take special precautions with trucks or cars coming from Lancaster County.

Pennsylvania officials have tentatively traced the outbreak to poultry trucks and crates from New York City.

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