End of ban on live bird exhibits is welcome

On Tuesday, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship announced the ban due to avian influenza on all live bird exhibitions at county fairs, the Iowa State Fair, livestock auction markets and other gatherings of birds is being lifted.

“This is very good news and another sign that we continue to recover from this devastating animal health emergency,” Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said. “We know the ban on exhibitions caused some real challenges for those anticipating showing or selling birds, but we appreciate everyone cooperating as we worked to stop the disease and then allow the industry to recover.”

Those words from Northey were a lot more pleasant than the ones he uttered last June.

“Animal-health wise, there is nothing that we’ve ever had like it,” he said.

The statistics from 2015 were mind-boggling, with the outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza ranking as the worst animal health emergency in Iowa history.

Approximately 50 million birds died or were euthanized in 15 states as the virus spread from the Pacific Northwest to Midwest farms. Especially hard hit were chicken farms in Iowa, the nation’s leading egg producer, and turkey farms in Minnesota, the nation’s leading turkey grower.

According to the USDA, scientists determined wild birds introduced the virus onto farms. They also reported lapses in biosecurity on farms and environmental factors likely contributed to the spread of the disease. The USDA said its staff found infected and noninfected farms shared equipment, employees moved between them and vehicles were not disinfected when moving between farms. It also heard reports of rodents or small birds inside of poultry houses.

The avian flu epidemic nixed plans for poultry at any of the county fairs in Iowa or at the Iowa State Fair. In Black Hawk County, the fair is designed to showcase work of 4-H youth and Future Farmers of America in the county. The ban on poultry took a big chunk out of the animal showcase last summer.

However, there was an Avian Influenza Display, designed to educate consumers and producers about the disease, biosecurity and poultry in general. That was a good move, since education is proving as important as ever.

Lifting the poultry exhibition ban comes as a result of no new cases of bird flu in Iowa since June and the lifting of the final quarantine on Dec. 1.

Iowa is now considered free of avian flu. Northey is correct; this is great news. However, we hope some lessons have been learned during this process.

We realize preventing outbreaks is nearly impossible, and that containing them takes vigilance in adhering to the biosecurity checklist, no matter how mundane.

– Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Dec. 31, 2015