Jersey Department of Agriculture
Letter to Poultry Producers
March 15, 2006
Dear bird producer,
As a member of New Jersey’s agricultural community involved in raising birds, you are probably aware of the attention paid to the spread of Avian Influenza (AI), especially the highly pathogenic strains, throughout Asia and Europe.
While these cases to date have occurred overseas, we in the United States must proactively prepare to address the possibility of a highly pathogenic strain outbreak in our own country. Recently, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt cautioned that “any community that fails to prepare, with the expectation that the federal government will come to the rescue, will be tragically wrong.”
Preparation and communication are our greatest tools in keeping Avian Influenza from spreading through our poultry flocks and possibly becoming a pandemic. Over the past two years, the Department of Agriculture’s cooperative efforts with the United States Department of Agriculture have significantly reduced the incidence of low-pathogenicity Avian Influenza in our state’s live bird markets. Preventing low-pathogenicity AI from becoming entrenched helps deny the opportunity for more virulent strains from establishing themselves.
While these preventive measures are important, we also must be prepared to deal with a highly pathogenic AI outbreak. The Department of Agriculture will work with its sister state government agencies, as well as partners such as Rutgers University’s Cook College and industry groups, to address any such outbreak. Our Division of Animal Health has continued to exercise alongside partners such as the Department of Health and Senior Services to ensure we are ready to respond to an outbreak in New Jersey. A communications network that has served us well on other issues would be activated in the event of an AI outbreak.
As has been seen in other countries, panic and overreaction tend to accompany AI. While appropriate caution is warranted, we will need to communicate to the public the rational facts of the situation, especially as relates to the safety of poultry and game birds as food. Proper, safe handling and cooking renders the virus harmless, and the public should be made aware of that fact. Accurate, up-to-date information during any such outbreak would be posted on the Avian Influenza page of our Department web site, at www.state.nj.us/agriculture/avianinfluenza.htm. Information on the safe handling of raw poultry can be found at www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/avian_faqs/en/#poultry.
Overseas, the overwhelming majority of people who have contracted highly pathogenic AI have been employees of poultry operations who had direct contact with infected live and freshly slaughtered, uncooked birds. It is imperative that New Jersey’s bird producers continue to be proactive about enforcing bio-security measures to reduce the spread of AI. A full list of appropriate bio-security measures can be found at www.state.nj.us/agriculture/homeland.htm.
It also is very important that domestic flocks be kept from any contact with the wild bird population, which is a primary spreader of the disease. If any of your birds die from unknown causes, please contact the Department’s Division of Animal Health at (609) 292-3965 to have the bird tested.
Without question, the key to effectively handling an AI outbreak is early detection and eradication. Your cooperation with the Department and its partners in the state and federal governments is important to making sure that a wider spread of the disease can be averted, your flock can be spared and an important agricultural sector can emerge from an outbreak with minimal impacts.
Charles M. Kuperus
Secretary of Agriculture