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Virginia destroys more than 1.4 million stricken fowl


Axian influenza outbreak rocks poultry industry; Losses estimated in the millions

Richmond, Va.- Virginia agriculture officials have ordered more than 1.4 million chickens and turkeys destroyed as entire flocks contract avian influenza - a viral outbreak not seen in the state since 1983.

The influenza, harmless to humans, is much like the human version ofthe flu. It was discovered three weeks ago during the routine testing ofa flock of breeding hens. Since then, this mild, but highly contagious virus,has spread to 55 farms in and around Rockingham County.

Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation, representsa third of the state's 13,000 farmers and five processing plants. At thispoint, he says, no one's sure how the virus originated or from where.

"Certainly, wild fowl-like ducks and geese can be vectors for it,but we may never know," Bauhan adds. "In the meantime, we're doingour best to get a handle on it and stop the spread."

State Veterinarian Dr. Bill Sims, whose office is working to containthe outbreak, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Economic impact

It's too early to tell how industry losses will measure, but Bauhan predicts"disposable costs alone are likely to be in the hundreds of thousandsof dollars and overall impact in the millions of dollars."

By comparison, the 1983 epidemic also resulted in the destruction of1.4 million turkeys and cost the state's poultry business about $45 million.United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health InspectionService officials in Washington confirm that Japan, so far, is the onlynation to embargo Virginia's poultry in reaction to the outbreaks.

Outside aid

Virginia ranks fourth in the nation in turkey production and sixth inthe production of chickens, says Elaine Lidholm, spokesperson for the VirginiaDepartment of Agriculture and Consumer Services. To offset losses, Gov.Mark Warner sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman seekingindemnification for farmers.

So far, there's been no response, Lidholm says.

Surrounding states closely monitoring the outbreak have banded in requestfor federal aid for Virginia as well.

"Everyone has a vested interest in stopping this disease,"Lidholm says. "It's a huge economic blow to the industry." M

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