4-H members plan avian flu education piece at fair
More than 3,000 Minnesota 4-H members who planned to show birds at county fairs face a new lesson this year. "Sometimes you realize that life isn't fair," state 4-H official Brad Rugg said after the Minnesota Board of Animal Health announced it i...
More than 3,000 Minnesota 4-H members who planned to show birds at county fairs face a new lesson this year.
"Sometimes you realize that life isn't fair," state 4-H official Brad Rugg said after the Minnesota Board of Animal Health announced it is ordering that all bird shows across the state be canceled this year.
The action comes as nearly six million Minnesota turkeys and chickens have died or been euthanized due to H5N2 avian flu.
Assistant Director Dr. Beth Thompson of the board said the action is being taken to help prevent the spread of the virus.
In a news conference at the State Fairgrounds, Rugg said that 4-H will use the action as a learning experience, and members will benefit.
"Part of our job developing the next generation of agriculture leaders includes teaching youth best practices to ensure the health and safety of the animals they raise, and this is that learning being put into action in the real world," Rugg said.
Virginia Hendrickx, Wadena County 4-H Program Coordinator with the University of Minnesota Extension, said there were about 10 families planning to show poultry at the fair this year before the announcement.
"They have an opportunity to put up a photo and decorate to show off their birds," Hendrickx said.
The 4-H members are also putting together some information to explain why there won't be birds in the poultry barn.
"It's going to be an educational piece," Hendrickx said. "That way people will know what's going on and can learn something too."
4-H members will be telling people that eggs are still safe, for example, and providing information about avian flu.
The Wadena County Fair will be June 24-28.
Health and other problems are folded into life as a farmer, said Steve Olson, executive director of turkey and chicken organizations and former 4-H and FFA member. "This is part of what it takes to raise food."
Rugg said 3,200 exhibitors show birds at local fairs, and 250 are at the State Fair each year.
"We're disappointed," State Fair General Manager Jerry Hammer said. "We know it is the right thing to do."
Hammer said the state fair will fill the poultry area during the late-August fair with poultry-related exhibits instead of live animals.
Deadlines for entering fair shows are being extended across the state so 4-H members can show other animals.
Some Wadena County 4-Hers who were planning to show poultry have decided to show other animals, Hendrickx said.
"A lot of them have chosen to show rabbits," she said. "We extended some of the deadlines so they would have a chance to show something else."
The ban includes all birds, although only turkeys and chickens have been diagnosed with the flu. It also extends beyond fairs to swap meets, exotic sales and petting zoos.
"Taking this step makes sense," Thompson said. "We need to do everything possible to get rid of this virus and preventing the commingling of birds from different farms is one way to do that."
State officials say the risk to the public is "very low," with no reports of H5N2 being passed from bird to human.
Poultry and eggs are safe to eat, experts say, as long as they are cooked to proper temperatures, as is the case any time.
"Our number-one message is this is not a food safety issue," Olson said.
Olson said that poultry producers remain on a "continued state of high alert."
"This is a critical time for Minnesota's poultry industry, and we'll do whatever it takes to help," Hammer said.
Don Davis, a reporter for Forum News Service, provided some information for this report.