The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets has issued an order banning all live fowl competitions at the New York State Fair and at all county fairs in New York.
The order is the direct result of the continuing spread of strains of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the Midwest.
“Avian influenza has not yet been detected in New York state, but it is a very serious threat to poultry and all breeds of fowl and is continuing to spread," said Ag and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball.
"Despite the efforts of the best poultry health experts in North America, we do not fully understand the cause of the rapid spread of this virus. This commonsense step will help limit the spread of the influenza to other farms and chickens,” Ball said.
The ban covers all breeds of fowl, including chickens, pigeons, turkeys, pheasants, guinea fowl, bantam poultry, geese and ducks. Exhibitors who have already registered fowl for the 2015 New York State Fair will be contacted and will receive a refund of their entry fees.
“This is a disappointment to us as well as to fairgoers and our exhibitors, who look forward to this competition every year. But we believe people understand that we are stewards of the animals in our care and I know they understand that we’re doing what’s best for everyone, and especially for the birds,” said Acting Fair Director Troy Waffner.
The State Fair has already made plans to fill the space in the Poultry Barn normally used for displaying chickens with rabbits and cavies, and the daily rooster crowing contest will be replaced by a rabbit hopping demonstration on seven days. There will be a special demonstration on Tuesday, Sept. 1 of combing and cutting fur from angora rabbits and spinning the fur into yarn to make hats and mittens.
The Rooster Crowing Competition is one of the highlights of each day at the fair. The winners from each day of competition would square off at the end of the fair's run.
While the current strains of avian influenza circulating in the Midwest are extraordinarily deadly to birds, experts stress that the H5N2 and H5N8 strains are not a threat to humans. Officials also stress that chicken and eggs are safe to eat.
The ban extends to all chartered county fairs and youth fairs in New York state. There are 45 county fairs and 6 chartered youth shows for the fair season that runs from June through October.
“We believe the public will be very receptive to this. They know that we want to do the right thing. We want to do what we can to prevent the spread of this disease to our local farms,” said Doug Hanno, President of the New York State Association of Agricultural Fairs and an official of the Lewis County Fair.
Last year, sows with piglets were banned from the State Fair due to a relatively new virus known as Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), which has a high mortality rate among piglets.
Several states have banned poultry competitions and exhibitions at fairs, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Minnesota. Ohio has banned poultry entries from states affected by the virus outbreak and may consider a complete ban on competitions and displays.