Via the Greensboro News & Record: Official on avian flu outbreak: 'It's not if ... but when'. Excerpt:
Mickey Bowman owns one of the largest chicken farms in the region. At any given time, he is raising 210,000 chickens in his five Randolph County houses.
And he could lose them all.
Ducks and geese will begin migrating south from Canada soon and they could be carrying a strain of avian flu that could wipe out poultry farms along the East Coast.
North Carolina is among the top five turkey-and-chicken producing states with a $4 billion industry. So there’s a lot to lose.
State officials have asked poultry farmers — even people who raise just a few chickens — to register for an N.C. Farm ID number to track possible outbreaks and send information to producers.
This flu poses no health risk to people or the birds that carry it, but it can kill a chicken or turkey instantly and force farmers to euthanize their entire flocks to stop the spread.
“It’s not if it’s going to hit us, but when,” said Jennifer Kendrick, public information officer for the N.C. Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Disease specialists believe the avian flu spreads through waterfowl feces. Chickens and turkeys could come in contact with and possibly ingest feces at ponds, on free-range pastures and even through vehicles that come and go at farms.
Bowman, who has been in business since 1992, sells $500,000 of poultry from his Rockin’ B Farm in Staley to the Mountaire Farms corporation every year.
His birds live in five enclosed houses, but he can’t afford to have even one bird contract the flu.
“If one tested positive, we’d have to depopulate the whole farm,” he said. “It’s a very serious threat out there.”
Bowman’s farm supports three families. If flu wipes out his flock, it would likely wipe out his business.
According to state agriculture officials, farms would likely be closed for six months to a year until the disease is gone.
Bowman said companies like Mountaire, Tyson and other producers would be hit hard. Food prices would rise and exports could suffer if other countries refuse to buy from the United States.
Michael L. Walden, an N.C. State professor, estimated earlier this month that for every $1 million lost in the poultry industry, total spending in the state would fall by $2.3 million.
So Bowman, along with many smaller farms, is working hard to stop the disease before it reaches one bird.
“We’re making sure our clothes and shoes are just for chicken houses,” he said. “We’re trying to watch the vehicles we take off the farm, trying to limit the people who come to the farm.”