'Biosecurity' Is Buzzword as Poultry Farms Defend against Bird Flu

Cameras, razored fencing help secure facilities, where birds are now a homeland security concern

"If we make our farms so that they don't have those things as they're flying over, they say, 'You know, that looks like a really bad place to land, because there's nowhere for me to waddle around,'" Corsiglia said. "'So I'm going to land at the dairy, or the canal.'"

Like the J.S. West Milling facility, the farm buildings are meant to be impenetrable by outside birds, though swallows flitted in and out of the eaves one recent morning. Corsiglia said these visitors can't get into the hen houses.

Every person must don disposable plastic boots before setting foot on the Gurr Ranch property. And truckers delivering feed are required to hose their rigs off with the same ammonia-based disinfectant used at J.S. West Milling.

It's all part of Corsiglia's three-part formula for biosecurity: isolating birds from disease, controlling people and equipment who come and go, and sanitizing everything.

"Animals that aren't exposed to disease don't get sick from those diseases," Corsiglia said. "The logic is so simple, it's laughable."

Exotic Newcastle hurt the industry, but forced it and the government to refine surveillance and response procedures, Corsiglia said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials believe farm workers who kept cockfighting roosters at home brought the disease to the egg farms where they worked. A quarantine on pet birds and commercial fowl in a 46,000-square-mile (117,760-square-kilometer) area spanning from Santa Barbara to San Diego cost federal and state agencies more than $151 million (euro123 million) but kept the disease contained to Southern California.

"That was kind of like a dry run," Corsiglia said. "We never had it up here (in Northern California), which was actually very good because it showed the system really works."

Exotic Newcastle lingered for years in California during an outbreak in the 1970s, but the 2002-2003 outbreak was eradicated in less than a year, said Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Silva keeps a brown foam chick in the center console of his truck. It's made for squeezing - a stress-buster.

He's not squeezing yet. Silva has invested $250,000 (euro203,000) since 2002 in biosecurity measures. But like many in the industry, he worries that a Chicken Little, sky-is-falling panic may be his business' worst enemy.

"It's not in the United States. It's not even close to the United States," he said of bird flu. Tens of thousands of Americans die each year from "regular" flu, Silva said. "And we're worried about this bird flu?"


On the Net: California Poultry Federation: http://www.cpif.org/

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