In response to an outbreak of avian flu, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has declared a state of emergency.
The highly contagious and deadly disease has been threatening the bird population of the Bay Area for a few years now. But until now, the Avian Flu had only affected birds in the wild. In Sonoma County, particularly in the Petaluma area, poultry and egg production is a $50 million industry.
Sonoma County has seen it's share of problems, but a disaster of another kind has hit Sunrise Farms in Petaluma. Officially known as "Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza," the disease was detected amidst the egg-laying hens, and the owners have had to euthanize 82,000 birds as a result. The same was true at Reinhardt Duck Farm, where they were forced to kill all 170,000 of their animals.
"There are still, in the south county, one million farm birds within a 5-mile radius of the one facility," said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt.
He introduced an emergency declaration at Tuesday's Board meeting. With both poultry operations immediately out of business, the county is hoping they can get state help with the growing disaster.
"While we talk about the Avian Flu, this is really an agricultural disaster," said Rabbitt. "The impact is not just to the businesses themselves, but one employs 150 empolyees, the other employs about 70-80."
"There's been other counties within California within this year that have experienced this...none to this degree," said Dayna Ghirardelli, Executive Director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.
Ghirardelli said poultry farms have been on high alert to try to prevent infection. The stringent biosecurity measures they all employ had been successful in keeping the disease out of the farms, even as the flu has existed in the wild for nearly two years
"It's a really unfortunate time because they've known...they've known they had to do all they can to protect their flocks from this because it is so contagious," Ghirardelli said.
But Supervisor Rabbitt doesn't think it's about carelessness on the part of the farms.
"It is no coincidence, in my mind," he said, "that these two facilities are the same two facilities that have had a history of animal right's activists trespassing and violating the biosecurity of the faciltities."
Ghirardelli agreed. "They had been so good with their biosecurity, and this has been on heightened awareness because they know what it meant if they were to be infected," she said. "And the fact that everything seemed fine until there was some trespassing and activity going on within the incubation period. I can't say that was the culprit, but I'm certainly not going to turn my back to it. We can't set it aside. It has to be part of the investigation."
The Supervisors are hoping the State will understand the threat to poultry farms across California and provide funding for emergency services and help for businesses and workers affected by the outbreak. It's hard to imagine what more can be done at the farms. Poultry producers are already taking every precaution they can think of. But with millions of birds in Sonoma County farms, it's impossible to overstate the threat they may be facing.
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