By Daniel Karell
Don’t expect to see feathers or the sound of quacks and or squawks at the Brown County fair this fall.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture followed the decision of neighboring states on Tuesday, June 2, by announcing a ban on live bird exhibitions at all state, independent, and county fairs this summer, in response to the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, otherwise known as the avian flu.
The specific strains, H5N2, H5N8, and H5N1 have already been detected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on 207 occasions, affecting more than 45 million birds in 20 states, stretching from Washington and Oregon in the west to Indiana and Wisconsin in the Midwest. So far, there have been no active cases discovered in Ohio.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture claims that Ohio is the second largest egg producer in the United States, with 28 million laying chickens, 12 million broilers, 8.5 million pullets and two million turkeys. The Department of Agriculture goes on to state that the state’s egg, chicken, and turkey farms employ more than 14,600 people and have a $2.3 billion economic impact.
With such a huge industry in the state, the Department of Agriculture didn’t want to risk potentially spreading the disease among the flocks at fairs or swap meets, and there’s also some worry among state and federal officials that the avian flu could “increase the likelihood” of human infection from another strain of the avian flu. The Center for Disease Control considers the risk low to humans of the viruses spreading among the bird population.
“One of the ways avian influenza spreads is by direct contact with contaminated materials coming from other infected birds,” Ohio state veterinarian Dr. Tony Forshey said in a press release from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. “This means that exhibitions, auctions and swap meets where birds are co-mingling pose a high risk of unintentionally spreading this disease. Until we can be sure that there has been no transference from the wild bird population migrating through the state, we need to do all we can to minimize the exposure for our domestic birds.”
Added Ohio Department of Agriculture director David Daniels, “This was a difficult decision because it means young people can’t show their birds at fairs, but it’s in the best interest of an industry that literally thousands of Ohio families and businesses depend on and which provides billions of dollars to our state’s economy. The right move isn’t always the easy move, but this is the right move, especially when you see just how devastating the virus has been to other big poultry states like Iowa and Minnesota. Ohioans need to do all we can to ensure that we protect our industry and that we help avoid a costly spike in the price of important foods like chicken, turkey and eggs.”
The decision to cancel all bird exhibitions and poultry show follows the same decision from Ohio neighbors West Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Indiana to cancel bird exhibitions for the summer. Only Indiana has had a flock of birds test positive for the avian flu.
As such, it wasn’t much of a surprise to those in the agriculture industry when Ohio followed suit to protect their industry.
“It’s not a surprise,” David Dugan, the agriculture and natural resources educator for Brown, Adams, and Highland counties, told The News Democrat. “I made the comment on the radio a week ago that this could happen. When you lose that number of birds in the country…10 days ago, they were talking 33 million (birds affected), now it’s in the 40 millions. It’s the biggest outbreak they’ve ever had in the country. It’s making some real economic changes to the poultry business.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed their first case of the H5N2 avian flu virus on Dec. 19, 2014, and since then, 207 detection have been reported with 45,027,793 birds affected. The virus traveled from Asia over the pacific flyway, and has since traveled east across the United States plains, over the Rocky Mountains and into the Mississippi valley.
Brown County Farm Bureau president Chris Rogers said that he’s never seen anything like this in his lifetime.
“I’ve never heard of anything this serious or this drastic,” he said. “I’ve never seen them cancel a show this way. It is pretty unprecedented.”
One of the big costs of Ohio’s decision to cancel all bird exhibitions is that junior fair participants won’t be able to show their birds at this year’s fairs or other events.
The press release from the Ohio Department of Agriculture states that they’re working with the county and independent fair boards and Ohio State University Extension offices to find alternatives for junior fair participants. Rogers said that he and the Farm Bureau are supporting this.
“The experience of raising a live animal to show at the fair builds character and teaches responsibility,” Daniels said. “We don’t want to deprive anyone the opportunity to complete their projects. For that reason, we are working with Ohio State University Extension to send out guidance to the fair boards and 4-H committees urging them to be creative and find a solution that will allow their young people to still have a fair experience, even if they cannot bring their project to the fairgrounds.”
Here in Brown County, 4-H educator and county extension director Christy Clary confirmed to The News Democrat that she and others in the agriculture education department are meeting soon to discuss potential options to help youth that were planning on presenting birds at the Brown County Fair.
“We’re hoping to try to meet this weekend to discuss ideas,” she said. “There’s a group that’s going to look at a lot of potential options for youth to present a live bird without being at the fair. There will be some educational opportunities (at this year’s fair), we just won’t be able to have live birds or eggs. We’re still exploring all our options.”