The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship announced last week that the state's ban cancelling all live bird exhibitions at county fairs, the Iowa State Fair, livestock auction markets, swap meets, exotic sales and other gatherings of birds due to avian influenza will be lifted on January 1, 2016.
"This is very good news and another sign that we continue to recover from this devastating animal health emergency. We know the ban on exhibitions caused some real challenges for those people anticipating showing or selling birds, but we appreciate everyone cooperating as we worked to stop the disease and then allow the industry to recover," says Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.
No new cases of bird flu reported in Iowa since June
The state ag department issued the order prohibiting poultry exhibitions on May 21, 2015 in the midst of the outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). The ban was put into place to minimize spread of HPAI and protect the state's domestic bird population. Lifting the poultry exhibition ban comes as a result of no new cases of HPAI in Iowa since June and the lifting of the final quarantine on December 1. Iowa is now considered free of HPAI.
A total of 77 premises and 31.5 million birds were affected with the disease in Iowa in 2015. They were 35 commercial turkey flocks, 22 commercial egg production flocks, 13 pullet flocks, one chicken breeding flock, one mail order hatchery, and five backyard flocks.
More information about the avian influenza situation in Iowa can be found at iowaagriculture.gov/avianinfluenza.asp.
Bird flu could come back, USDA chief warns
The deadly bird flu virus that devastated Iowa's poultry industry last spring and sent egg prices soaring could reappear, even though no new cases have been detected for months, says U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. "It can happen any time. There are obviously times when the risk is higher and lower, but I think the testing and the vigilance has to be ongoing."
It's been more than six months since the last case of avian influenza was found in a commercial flock: in Wright County in north-central Iowa. But Vilsack says there are concerns that the arrival of spring when wild geese, ducks and other birds begin flying north likely will present the greatest risk for recurrence. "Every day that goes by without a bird flu finding is a good day," the former Iowa governor said.
Bird flu caused $1.2 billion loss to Iowa economy in 2015
Earlier this year the disease destroyed nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys in 15 states. Iowa, the nation's largest egg producer, lost 31.5 million birds across 18 counties, including about 30 million laying hens and pullets and 1.1 million turkeys. The virus cost the state's economy $1.2 billion through lost egg, chicken and turkey production, as well as lost wages and tax revenue, according to a study by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.
The rapid spread of the virus posed a challenge that at times seemed overwhelming, as USDA and state ag officials struggled to dispose of dead chickens and turkeys in the hardest hit areas. Some poultry operations failed to closely follow biosecurity measures intended to help curtail spread of the disease.
Since last spring, officials have studied what worked during the outbreak and what needs improving. Biosecurity efforts have been strengthened at poultry facilities, and the USDA has stockpiled vaccines. John Clifford, USDA's chief veterinary officer, said in October that if the virus doesn't return by January, "we probably should be in pretty good shape" before attention returns to the spring.