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Avian flu threat has poultry leaders wary
State, agency leaders launch campaign to educate on farmers prevention
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Just how serious is the latest strain of avian influenza?

“It’s been the worst foreign animal disease outbreak in agriculture in our nation’s history,” said Mike Giles, president of the Georgia Poultry Federation based in Gainesville.

While any possible threat to human health is nonexistent, it’s the potential economic impact that has state and local leaders paying close attention.

That’s why, in partnership with Gainesville-based marketing agency Morton Vardeman & Carlson, the poultry federation has developed a themed campaign encouraging poultry growers to be “all in” with biosecurity measures to avoid losing entire flocks to avian influenza.

To date, the campaign has been embraced statewide by Georgia’s poultry companies and growers, Giles said.

“What we’re doing is not scare tactics. There is a very real risk of poultry farms being infected as wild birds begin their migratory flights down south with colder weather,” Giles said.

And the worst case scenario?

“Well,” he said, “the poultry industry has a $28 billion economic impact on the state of Georgia. Part of that is directly tied to the industry, but a lot of it is indirect. For instance, the people who rely on the industry, companies that sell products and services to the industry.”

Added Giles: “A major disruption of the poultry industry would have a widespread effect on the economy.”

To try and keep that from happening, the “All In or All Gone” campaign is being promoted via a myriad of marketing strategies that include a website, allinallgone.com, periodic email messages sent directly to farmers and various promotional signs displayed at farms and on vehicles.

Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black described the potential outbreak as “an all hands on deck emergency involving many agencies.”

“(The department of agriculture) has the responsibility of leading the response. We’ve been in heavy preparation mode,” Black said. “Being the No. 1 poultry producing state in the nation, it’s incumbent upon us to be well prepared should we have to act.”

The disease knows no borders, Giles said, so the federation has agreed to share the campaign with other poultry and turkey associations across the country that have expressed interest in joining the campaign.

The current strain of avian influenza affects birds, not humans. The source of the virus is typically ducks and geese. Once the virus infects a single chicken or turkey, the disease can spread rapidly and wipe out an entire flock.

“Infected migratory waterfowl can move 10,000 miles but remain healthy, and they carry it with them,” Giles said. “With earlier versions of avian influenza, it was less effective at moving great distances, because the ducks carrying it would get sick.”

One of the most common ways the disease can be carried is through migratory birds’ feces.

“One gram of feces has enough virus in it to potentially infect 1 million chickens,” Giles said. “That’s why we’re so concerned about this.”

Precautions for keeping the flu out of chicken houses amount, basically, to a series of disinfecting measures that can be taken prior to entering.

Giles said an outbreak can be avoided if every Georgia poultry farmer follows the biosecurity measures outlined in the campaign.

For information on the campaign and to learn about disinfectant measures, visit www.allinallgone.com.

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