ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Department of Agriculture quarantined state poultry farmers Friday as a precaution to suppress the recent outbreak of the avian flu in the Delmarva region.
While tests of Maryland birds have come up negative, department spokeswoman Sue duPont said the restriction, which ends March 10, is an added armor against contagion.
“We wanted to put some teeth into our earlier requests,” duPont said.
As of Thursday, 508 poultry houses on 220 farms tested negative for the disease.
Earlier this month, Maryland agriculture officials issued voluntary restrictions in collaboration with Delaware’s Department of Agriculture and the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.
Workshops, meetings, live poultry markets and other activities were canceled and disinfecting procedures implemented to prevent further contamination.
Most of Maryland’s 1,100 farms willingly complied with the requirements, duPont said, but in Delaware, not everyone was as obedient, prompting the more stringent demands.
“We have reports that a few growers and clean-up personnel have not been in compliance,” said Anne Fitzgerald, chief of community relations in Delaware’s agriculture department.
Those farmers were spreading poultry manure on their fields in defiance of the department’s prohibitions, she said.
“This is the time of year when people are trying to get their crops out,” duPont said.
The quarantine zone extends across areas south of the Pennsylvania state line, west of the Delaware state line, east of the Susquehanna River and north and east of Maryland Route 50.
Any farmer within the restricted area may not sell live poultry or transport poultry or poultry manure without previous testing. They’re also prohibited from spreading manure on fields.
Violators could be fined up to $500 and face three months imprisonment for a first offence, said duPont. A second offender could face a $1,000 fine and a one-year jail term.
The department increased scrutiny of state poultry farms after the H7N2 strain of the virus, devastating to poultry but harmless to humans, was found two weeks ago on two farms in Delaware’s Sussex and Kent counties, resulting in the slaughter of about 100,000 chickens.
It was the first incidence of avian flu in the commercial broiler industry in the Delmarva region, said Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Inc., an industry that accounted for 31 percent or $440 million of Maryland’s $1.4 billion agriculture industry in 2002.
Department Secretary Lewis Riley urged farmers to remain vigilant and vowed to take all necessary measures to protect the industry in a written statement.
“We must ensure that everything that can be done is being done to protect our state’s leading agricultural industry and livelihood.”