MD poultry faces disaster

BY SUSAN KIM | ACCOMACK COUNTY, VA | June 28, 2002



"Each and every intrusion on your farm, whether invited or not, is a breach in your bio-security."

—William M. Sims, Jr.


Hunting dogs could be carrying disaster to Maryland's poultry farmers.

Accomack County Virginia's only Eastern Shore

jurisdiction that still allows deer hunting with dogs.

And the debate between some residents who find the dogs

annoying and hunters trying to maintain an age-old

tradition is nothing new.

What is new is the highly contagious and economically

devastating Avian influenza -- a disease that rapidly

wipes out poultry by the millions though it's not

harmful to humans. Avian flu has been found in several

mid Atlantic states. In Virginia, the disease has cost

the poultry industry $114 million, according to Sen.

George Allen (R-Va.). More than 4.4 million birds have

been exterminated.

Accomack County is located near the Maryland-Virginia

line. And dogs that step in bird droppings from poultry,

waterfowl, or wild birds -- a highly likely scenario in

this region -- could trek the disease onto area poultry

farms.

Hunters and their packs of dogs are ideally contained on

privately owned hunt club lands. Hunters pay membership

fees for the privilege of using the lands.

But some poultry farmers say enforcing boundaries is

impossible and, come hunting season, they'll be chasing

dogs -- and potentially Avian flu -- off their farms.

At least two of the nine members of the county board of

supervisors have vested financial interests in deer

hunting with dogs, and some residents suspect other

county officials are reaping monetary benefits from dog

clubs as well. The most recent county vote was no

surprise: dogs are allowed. But extra attention will be

paid to enforcing boundary rules.

Poultry farmer Janet Outten said her blood pressure is

up. "I am so upset and disgusted. We don't mind the

hunting. We just don't want the dogs."

Even with increased numbers of game wardens, Outten said

there's little chance they'll be able to keep the dogs

from straying off hunt club land. "Some people even

proposed putting beepers on the dogs. Give me a break."

Another vote may be scheduled for September.

Outten and others might have good reason to stew. Dogs

that run loose are, frankly, a risk, according to

William M. Sims, Jr., Virginia's state veterinarian.

"Each and every intrusion on your farm, whether invited

or not, is a breach in your bio-security," he stated.

Although visits from or connected with other poultry

farms and their vehicles pose the greatest risk of

disease, cats and dogs "that roam or run loose could

also be a risk."

It's a risk that many in Maryland's poultry industry

would rather not take. In Maryland, agriculture is still

the largest industry, and poultry is its largest sector,

said Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva

Poultry Industry, Inc. (DPI), a nonprofit trade

association working on behalf of the broiler chicken

industry in Delaware, the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and

the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

On the Delmarva Peninsula, there are some 20,000 people

directly employed by the poultry industry. Some 2,900

farming families grow chickens. "There are a lot of jobs

at stake." Add the hundreds of businesses that supply

products to the poultry industry, and "everyone really

has a stake."

In Maryland, broilers alone accounted for 32 percent or

about $480 million of all farm revenue last year. In

addition, the bulk of the grain grown in Maryland goes

to the poultry industry for use as chicken feed.

DPI and other industry organizations have been putting a

greater emphasis on bio-security, said Satterfield.

Dr. Fidelis Hegngi, Maryland's assistant state

veterinarian, said when a rapidly spreading disease like

Avian flu hits, it tends to make everyone remember how

important prevention is. "When something like this

happens, it heightens prevention measures."

As other industries have adopted bio-security measures

in the wake of Sept. 11, the agriculture industry is

perfecting measures it's had for years. "We do that

every day. We do a lot of monitoring for disease."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is finalizing

guidelines for poultry companies and growers to follow

which will outline the risks associated with introducing

new flocks in an area where avian flu is present.

Maryland Hagner R. Mister issued an official order to

prevent the introduction of contagious or infectious

diseases into Maryland. It prohibits the gathering of

poultry at auctions, marketplaces, fairs, exhibitions,

shows, or other events in the state. But it doesn't say

anything about dogs.

For deer hunters and their dogs, what's at stake is the

freedom to honor an age-old tradition. "I don't think

the actions of a few careless hunters should ruin it for

everyone else," stated Lawrence E. Seaman III, a

commercial fisherman. "With this said, I think dog

hunters and their clubs should rethink memberships and

hunting methods before it causes them to lose something

they cherish."

Some club owners said they hope better enforcement of

rules would solve the problem. "Our club membership is

mostly made up of farmers, business owners, and working

people from Maryland," stated Buddy Clogovics of the

Horntown, VA Hunt Club. "We welcome the increased

enforcement from the game wardens and hope to work with

them more closely to register our club members so they

can identify the lawbreakers more easily."

Club owners also said their business supports the local

economy through land rentals, veterinary care, dog food

and supplies, licenses, and hunting supply purchases.

Some clubs also donate deer to local food banks along

with funds to have deer processed.


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