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Poultry Industry Asks Lawmakers for Help Suppressing Flu Info

Chicken feed / Courtesy of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services of the USDA
Poultry farmers are asking lawmakers to conceal their identities to prevent a panicked embargo. (Photo courtesy of the USDA)

By Sarah Lesher
Capital News Service
Friday, Feb. 4, 2005

ANNAPOLIS -- In the wake of an economically devastating avian flu outbreak in the Delmarva region last year, poultry producers asked lawmakers Friday for legislation to conceal the identity of infected farms, saying they want to avoid panicked embargos by overseas purchasers.

However secrecy would also limit the ability of non-government officials to monitor disease spread, potentially placing human populations at risk.

At a meeting of the Eastern Shore delegation to the General Assembly Friday, Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., asked state legislators to support HB76, authorizing civil penalties for people who violate animal health regulations, and HB104, protecting the identity of infected farms.

And the industry sought to assure the legislators that they are doing all they can to ensure safety at their farms.

"We're now working with county health departments and other states to protect workers against avian influenza," said Ron Darnell, Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. president.

Delegate D. Page Elmore, R-Wicomico, asked another lawmaker to research the question of trade sanctions and export bans.

The strain of flu that infected Delmarva poultry last year - H7N2 - is not very virulent. Only two poultry workers of hundreds tested showed signs of having been infected with the disease.

However, in Southeast Asia, other strains of avian flu have long been known to spread to -- and kill -- humans in close contact with poultry.

Recently a young Vietnamese girl died of a different strain of avian flu, H5N1, after contact with poultry. Her mother and aunt, who had no direct contact with poultry, then became sick, and the mother died, raising fears that the flu had evolved into a form transmissible from human to human with the potential of causing a pandemic, according to recent news reports.

Outbreaks occurred in 1957 and 1968, possibly from flu that jumped from birds to humans and then changed so it could move directly from human to human, said Dr. Richard Slemons, Ohio State University professor of veterinary medicine.

Slemons noted that the poultry industry is so vertically integrated that even if Europe refuses to accept imports of American poultry for a week the cost can be millions of dollars.

"Maryland and Delaware did a great job last year" containing the disease, Slemons said. "We're due for another pandemic," Slemons said. "The only thing that's predictable is that (the viruses are) unpredictable."

There has been no recorded case of human to human transmission of avian flu strains in North America, said Llelwyn Grant, Centers for Disease Control spokesman.

Copyright 2005 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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