Chicken farmers' restrictions near an end

Md., Del. are planning to lift curbs Monday

April 03, 2004|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Maryland and Delaware agriculture officials said yesterday that they would lift all restrictions Monday on chicken farmers - a major turning point in the avian influenza crisis that has cast a pall over Delmarva Peninsula agriculture since February.

Monday is expected to mark the 30th day that all poultry on the peninsula will have tested negative around three infected farms and among all flocks sent for processing. The most recent case of flu was confirmed March 6 in Pocomoke City on Maryland's Eastern Shore - the first outbreak of the virus ever detected on a commercial farm in the state.

Officials credited the quick response of growers, processors and others with containing the outbreak of flu, which had first been found on two Delaware farms two months ago. Infected birds had also been found in a live-bird market in New Jersey, and a more virulent strain was discovered in Texas chickens.

None of the strains is considered harmful to humans who touch or eat infected birds.

The outbreaks of the contagious virus have threatened the economic vitality of the industry, as well as individual growers who had flocks slaughtered or were limited in their movement. State officials plan to study the impact.

Federal officials also continue to seek relief from import bans imposed on Texas, Delmarva and other U.S., poultry products by 49 countries and the European Union. Europe and Mexico have said they would lift parts of their bans.

"Barring any change of events over the weekend, on Monday, I will lift all of the restrictions in Maryland that have been in place for the past month," Maryland Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley said.

"This has been a difficult time and a real wake-up call for all of us involved with poultry and agricultural businesses and hobbies across the state. While Monday may signal a sense of normalcy, we should not let down our guard. We all need to keep a sharp look out for illness in our flocks, call in any unusual signs, and practice good biosecurity measures."

The lifting of restrictions means growers can again bring in new chicks to grow into broiler chickens, hobbyists can buy birds and everyone can congregate at meetings and auctions. Many farmers had quarantined themselves on their properties, and those who left home had been required to vigorously and continuously clean themselves and their trucks.

With testing completed of chickens on 2,181 Delmarva farms, Delaware's Department of Agriculture also said yesterday that it would lift its last restrictions Monday on transportation and movement of live birds within and out of that state.

Delaware officials are also proposing new regulations to prevent another outbreak. They will require registration of live birds and stricter record-keeping and cleaning of trucks and other equipment. Maryland will also review its regulations.

Farmers said they will continue to be cautious for fear of spreading a virus that is always present somewhere, generally in wild birds.

"Today was a good-news day," said Joseph E. Chisholm, a vice president of Peninsula Bank in Pocomoke City and a farmer. "We can all start placing chickens again and start earning a bit of money."

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