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New Oakwood lab helps keep poultry flocks healthy
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Visitors tour the new free-standing necropsy laboratory that opened last week at the Georgia Poultry Laboratory in Oakwood. The new lab allows analysis while maintaining separation from the main laboratory building. - photo by For The Times

A new biosecure necropsy building opened last week at the Georgia Poultry Laboratory in Oakwood. The $100,000 facility allows post-mortem examination of chickens without the possibility of introducing disease into the main laboratory building.

"This is where we will examine birds for any signs of disease," said Louise DeFoor-Zavala, a veterinarian who heads the state network of nine laboratories, including the headquarters in Oakwood. "This is a bio-secure facility, whatever comes in doesn’t come out by air, by water or by any means. We’ve built it so it is completely contained."

The state operates the laboratories in Bowdon, Camilla, Carnesville, Dalton, Douglas, Forsyth, Glennville and Montezuma, all near the major poultry processing facilities in the state.

There has been a laboratory in the Gainesville area since the explosive growth of the poultry industry in the post-war era."The lab is extremely important in poultry health," said Abit Massey, president of the Georgia Poultry Federation, a Gainesville-based trade organization. "They assist in keeping healthy flocks through diagnostic work and advising companies and growers."

The main laboratory has automated equipment that can analyze blood samples for traces of avian influenza. There have been predictions of the disease spreading from other countries, where chickens are grown in more primitive settings. While the predictions have not panned out, the industry in Georgia has a testing program that now includes each flock of chickens grown for commercial production.

"Before going to processing, birds from every flock are tested," said Massey. "We’re pleased with that program and the cooperative effort of the companies, the growers and the lab."

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin, who toured the lab last week, said while the work of the scientists is unseen by consumers, it is a method of quality assurance behind the scenes.

"It assures the consumer of a healthy product when they buy Georgia poultry," Irvin said.

Georgia, which is the largest poultry-producing state in the U.S., is touted as having the most sophisticated laboratory network.

The new laboratory was dedicated to workers at the Oakwood facility who had more than 30 years of service.

Among them is Faye Martin, who lives at Blackshear Place. She was a technician at the lab for more than 44 years.

"I taught a lot of these men how to bleed chickens," Martin said. "They didn’t know how."

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