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Poultry biosecurity signs handy, state officials find

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — In the past, if you rode down a country road in Alabama and passed a chicken farm, you’d probably smell the presence of poultry.

The last thing you would expect to see is red, white and blue biosecurity signs warning you in English and Spanish not to enter without protective gear.

Welcome to the age of homeland security and bird flu, in Alabama as in the rest of the country. After the terrorist attacks of 2001, Alabama poultry farms began posting biosecurity signs.

A skeptic might ask whether the signs and related protective clothing that often goes with them are homeland security hype or good poultry science?

Dana Bennett, poultry unit manager at the Alabama Department of Agriculture, said the signs are a deterrent to discourage unannounced visitors.

“You would be surprised at the number of people who go up to a poultry farm because they just want to see what it is like,” Bennett said.

Reducing risks

Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks said biosecurity means reducing the likelihood of everything from avian flu to terrorism to common but easily spread poultry infections.

Sparks said he has more signs for any poultry farmer who wants to participate in the voluntary posting. He argues that it is important for Alabama to stress prevention.

The signs are added reminders to anyone who comes to a farm that precautions help protect poultry from the spread of disease. Sparks said the signs are red on one side with white letters and blue with white letters on the other side. Words on one side are in English and the other in Spanish.

In today’s world, it’s important to include Spanish, the commissioner said. “There are a lot of Hispanics working at the poultry farms,” Sparks said. “We do the Spanish for them.”

For people who work with chickens, donning protective booties and coveralls are often part of the daily prevention ritual of getting “dressed” for work. They put on the gear before contact with chickens and remove it as soon as they leave that area.

“We’ve done bio-security signs on farms to remind people that they need to protect the poultry industry every day,” Sparks said.

“Normally, if there is a problem on poultry farms, it is with the number of workers who go from place to place. Often the way they spread it is on the bottoms of their shoes.”

The state Departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security first teamed up to print and distribute the signs to poultry farms within months of the 2001 terrorist attack in New York and Washington, D.C.

State Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Gina Smith said her agency joined with the agriculture department as a way to reduce the threat of terrorism to the state and nation’s food supply and economy. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site also lists steps to reduce the possibility of biohazard contamination in poultry.

Sparks said his department urges poultry farmers to use the precautions. In the name of prevention, the state also increased the number of chickens tested for the presence of disease, Sparks said. Alabama increased testing from 20,000 to 70,000 birds per year.

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