Los Angeles Times
October 23, 2002
Lethal Outbreak Threatens Poultry
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Newcastle disease has spread rapidly in the Southland since September. More than 6,000 infected birds have been destroyed.
By Eric Malnic, Times Staff Writer
An outbreak of Newcastle disease in Southern California is threatening the state's $2.5-billion poultry and egg industry, state officials said Tuesday.
The outbreak, which was discovered Sept. 27 in a backyard flock of chickens in Compton, has spread rapidly through Los Angeles and Riverside counties, the state Department of Food and Agriculture said.
About 70 backyard flocks in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties have been quarantined, and more than 6,500 chickens, turkeys, ducks and pet birds have been destroyed in an effort to curb the outbreak. Newcastle disease, though lethal to all birds, does not affect humans and poses no public health threat.
Thus far, no commercial flocks have been infected. But Leticia Rio, a spokeswoman for the agriculture department, warned that the viral disease, which hammered California's poultry industry in the early 1970s, could continue to spread.
"It's a huge concern to our industry," said Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation, an industry group representing most of the state's major producers, including Foster Farms and Zacky Farms. "We are already being affected, because foreign nations, worried about Newcastle, are starting to cut off their imports from the United States."
The outbreak comes at a particularly worrisome time for the turkey industry.
"They usually do 40% of their business between now and Christmas," Mattos said.
California is one of the largest poultry states, producing about 250 million chickens, 18 million turkeys, several million ducks and almost a million squab every year, Mattos said.
Most of the poultry producers are in the northern San Joaquin Valley, but there are major egg producers in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
A statewide outbreak of Newcastle disease 30 years ago spread to commercial flocks and forced the destruction of more than 11 million birds. It took two years to eradicate the disease, at a cost of more than $50 million.
The source of the current outbreak is unknown, but Rios said it could have started with the illegal importation of birds such as fighting cocks and protected species of parrots.
The disease usually spreads bird to bird, through contact with contaminated feces, feed, cages and other materials. Humans can serve as carriers.
More than 150 state and federal inspectors have fanned out through Southern California since the outbreak began, testing flocks of every size and ordering quarantines and the destruction of any infected birds.
The agriculture department has set up a hotline to provide information on the disease and accept reports on possible bird infections. The number is (800) 491-1899.
Mattos said poultry and egg producers are taking exceptional steps to keep the disease from their flocks.
"There's big bio-security," he said. "Visitors aren't being allowed, because they can be carrying the infection in on their clothing and shoes. The workers have to wear coveralls and boots that are sprayed with disinfectant before they enter the buildings [housing the flocks].
"We can't afford to let this disease get to our commercial flocks."
October 23, 2002
The Inland Valley Voice
Virus raises flag for egg ranchers
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Commercial flocks so far have been spared outbreaks of disease that has been found in surrounding area.
By Matthew Chin, Inland Valley Voice
The reappearance of a deadly avian disease that devastated California's poultry industry in the early 1970s has area egg ranchers concerned about the safety of their flocks.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has quarantined 63 places in Southern California so far this month, including locations in Corona and Norco, where exotic Newcastle virus has been found in backyard flocks, said USDA spokesman Larry Hawkins. More than 6,500 birds have been destroyed so far.
It affects all birds and the mortality rate for most exposed birds is about 90%, Hawkins said. The disease is not harmful to humans, even if infected eggs or poultry are consumed, he said.
So far, there are no reports of the disease in any commercial poultry flocks in the state, he said.
Cases of the virus have been reported in Los Angeles and Riverside counties among backyard poultry, parrots, peacocks and other birds. Inspections are being conducted in San Bernardino County as well, but so far no cases have been found there, Hawkins said.
A statewide outbreak from 1971 to 1973 cost $56 million to eradicate and 11.9 million chickens were destroyed.
Area commercial egg ranchers say they're concerned over the resurgence of the virus, but say that bio-security measures already in place because of concerns about bioterrorism and avian influenza should prevent infection in their flocks.
"We have a heightened sense of awareness for bio-security on our farm," said Willard Maust, owner of California Farms, a small egg ranch in Chino. "The industry has to be concerned and we're very vigilant."
The security measures include keeping people off farms and away from the chickens, since the disease can be carried by humans if they came in contact with the virus, he said.
Farms also disinfect incoming delivery trucks and other equipment that could carry Newcastle virus if they were previously at an infected site, said Paul Bahan, owner of AAA Egg Farms in Riverside County's San Jacinto Valley.
According to 2001 county reports to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, eggs were San Bernardino's fourth largest agriculture commodity, generating $26.2 million.
As of January, there were 41 commercial poultry ranches with nearly 4 million birds in the county, said John Gardner, chief deputy commissioner sealer at the county's Department of Agriculture/Weights & Measures. Of those, about 30 ranches have chickens to produce eggs. The others raise chickens for meat or to sell to other farms, he said.
There is no count of how many backyard birds there are in the county and in most places, it is legal to have a few as pets.
For Riverside County, eggs are the fifth largest commodity at a value of $56.2 million, according to the state reports. Eggs are not in the top 10 commodities for Los Angeles County.
The disease was first reported in Southern California on Oct. 1, Hawkins said. He said it is not known how extensive the outbreak could be, but noted that federal and state agriculture officials are only finding a few cases.
This outbreak may have come in through Mexico, he said. Smuggled birds seized at the border often carry Newcastle disease, Hawkins said.
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