Chicken Festival planning going on despite avian flu

By Lynn R. Parks

The spread of avian flu in chicken and turkey flocks in Virginia has caused the postponement of the annual banquet sponsored by the Delmarva Poultry Industry. But Connie Parvis, director of education and consumer information with DPI, said that plans for the annual Chicken Festival, to be held this year in Seaford, are moving ahead. “At this point, there is no change in our plans,” she said. “We are moving forward and hoping that the situation will improve.” Parvis said that a recommendation to cancel the festival would come from the Emergency Poultry Disease Task Force, which unanimously recommended that the banquet, scheduled for April 23 in Salisbury, be canceled. She would expect such a recommendation to come well before the start of the two-day festival, June 21. “There is too much at stake” to cancel the festival just before opening, she said. “We will monitor the situation for the next few weeks and hope that there can be improvement in the next few weeks.” An avian flu outbreak in Pennsylvania forced the cancellation of the 1984 Chicken Fes- tival, scheduled to be held in Salisbury. The festival schedule, made several years in advance, was rearranged to allow Salisbury to hold the festival the next year. “That outbreak had been going on for some time and there were hundreds of cases,” Parvis said. According to Elaine Lindholm, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, low pathogenic avian influenza has infected 67 turkey and nine chicken flocks in four counties in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley since mid-March. (A flock averages 13,000 birds.) More than 1 million birds have been killed as a precautionary measure and another 500,000 birds are set to be destroyed.

Lindholm said that the state hopes to get the outbreak under control “as soon as possible.” But four farms were identified this weekend as contaminated. Bill Satterfield, DPI executive director, said that there has not been such an outbreak since 1983-1984. The low pathogenic avian flu is not a threat to humans and is not likely to kill birds. However, it can mutate into a variety that is deadly to birds. “We don’t know whether it will change, so it is best to get rid of it to keep it from spreading,” Satterfield said. There is no vaccine or treatment for infected birds. All birds on a farm that has been identified as being contaminated are destroyed in order to contain the disease. Local poultry companies have instituted increased biosecurity measures related to truck travel and transporting eggs to Delmarva. Additional bird testing on Delmarva has begun. Paula Gunson, executive director of the Seaford Chamber of Commerce, said that cancellation of the Chicken Festival would be a tremendous loss to the community. “We have been looking forward to it and planned so much for it,” she said. But Gunson added that she is optimistic that the festival will go on as planned. “We are hoping that [the outbreak] will be under control by May,” she said. “And we are glad for all the precautionary measures that the industry is taking.”

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