As the threat of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or H5N2, intensifies nationwide, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is continuing efforts to minimize the risk of the disease spreading here, should it be found. As such, acting Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding announced that the department is suspending all avian competitions at state-approved agricultural fairs in 2015, as well as the 2016 Pennsylvania Farm Show.
In 2014, the poultry and egg industry was responsible for $13 billion in total economic activity throughout Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association. With this in mind, Redding said proactive precautionary measures are necessary to protect the industry and animal health.
“This is not a decision we made lightly, but it is one that we feel is necessary given the threat,” Redding said. “Across the country, 145 flocks have tested positive for this disease. This strain has killed or forced producers to euthanize 15 million birds. The effect has been devastating, and we do not want to see the same kind of impact here in Pennsylvania.”
Avian influenza, commonly known as “bird flu,” is caused by an influenza type-A virus. Avian influenza viruses occur naturally in birds. Wild bird species (such as ducks, swans and geese) can carry the virus, but usually do not exhibit symptoms. The disease is very contagious, however, and can make domesticated birds (including chickens, ducks, quail, pheasants, guinea fowl and turkeys) very sick or even cause death.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is working with the United States Department of Agriculture (UDSA), other government agencies, and the state’s poultry industry to prepare for an outbreak of H5N2. The most important prevention technique is for anyone who owns or works with poultry to apply sound biosecurity measures – whether on a commercial farm, in the wild, or at a hobby/backyard farm.
The department is requesting that fairs put in place alternative poultry-based competitions to highlight the accomplishments of youth poultry competitors. Penn State Extension has recommended establishing educational poster competitions or birdless showmanship to keep youth engaged in the poultry industry and provide a solution for completing their poultry projects.
“We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, as the 2015 agricultural fair season is underway,” Redding said. “The purpose of this action is not to disturb regular agricultural fair practices, but to take proactive steps to reduce the risks of avian influenza spreading. The department will continue to monitor the situation as it develops, and we will remain in contact with the agricultural fairs’ management and Penn State Extension educators to make the best recommendations possible. While avian influenza has not yet impacted Pennsylvania, we are doing everything possible to be prepared.”