Feathers won’t fly at fair

CHATHAM–The state Department of Agriculture and Markets has placed a ban on all fowl competitions at all county fairs as a safeguard against avian flu. The department, commonly known as Ag and Markets, issued a press release Tuesday, May 19, saying that “the ban covers all breeds of fowl, including chickens, pigeons, turkeys, pheasants, guinea fowl, bantam poultry, geese, and ducks.” There are 45 county fairs and 6 chartered youth shows for the fair season that runs from June through October, according to the release.

The ban includes the Columbia County Fair, which is set for September 2 through 7. It also applies to the annual state fair in Syracuse. State exhibitors will be refunded their entry fee, according Ag and Markets. Entry forms for the Columbia County Fair have not gone out, so exhibitors have not yet been charged.

County Fair Board of Directors member Angelo Nero said Wednesday, May 20 that the local fair organizers had just received the information from the state about the ban. Though he said he was a little disappointed about the ban he understood the state’s concerns about safety. He said that the fair board had already talked to the person in charge of the poultry exhibits and competitions at the fair and they would be notifying exhibitors. He stressed that other animals will be at the fair and that only birds are banned.

In the release, Commissioner of Agriculture Richard Ball says that avian influenza has not been detected in the state, but that it has become a major issue in the Midwest. Mr. Ball says that avian flu is “a very serious threat to poultry and all breeds of fowl and is continuing to spread. Despite the efforts of the best poultry health experts in North America, we do not fully understand the cause of the rapid spread of this virus. This commonsense step will help limit the spread of the influenza to other farms and chickens.”

“The kids will not be showing their birds, obviously,” said Linda Tripp, the 4-H Leader at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties in Hudson, in a phone interview after the ban was announced. 4-H groups have special displays at the fair with several different livestock exhibits.

She said she was just contacting their 4-H members and leaders about the ban.

Ms. Tripp said they are discussing having pictures and displays about the birds at the fair to make up for the birds not being there. She also said that in her 28 years of working with the 4-H this has never happened before. But she said in recent years she has seen a lot more “bio-security concerns” as birds are moved now all around the county.

According to the release, “The outbreak is concentrated in two strains of influenza–H5N2 and H5N8. Influenza has been found on more than 170 farms in 20 states in the West, Midwest and South and in 2 Canadian provinces. More than 35-million birds have died or been euthanized as a result of what officials call the largest avian influenza outbreak in U.S. history.”

According to a report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued early this year about these strains of avian flu, “Although these viruses are not known to have caused disease in humans, their appearance in North America might increase the likelihood of human infection in the United States.”

The release from the state quotes Robert D. Simpson, president of the New York State Association of Agricultural Fairs, saying, “I know there will be poultry exhibitors that will be disappointed they will not be able to attend their fair but animal health is always our top priority and we must trust the experts’ effort to insure the safety of all of our exhibitors’ birds.”

As for now, several other states have also banned poultry competitions and exhibitions at fairs, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Minnesota.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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