Opposition To Backyard Chicken Registration Mounting
We explore local frustration over the new NC Farm ID requirement concerning backyard chickens. Some residents are scoffing at the penalty free obligation, regarding it an invasion of privacy. But state agriculture officials are warning of an potentially devastating outbreak of avian influenza.
“It’s something I look forward to every morning. Coming out here and collecting eggs, and the kids like to feed them and collect the eggs too”
That’s New Bern resident Genevieve Daniels. She’s raised a flock chickens for four years now, for fun and for food.
“In the past, we’ve had one too many roosters so we would process the roosters out here in our backyard and have some fresh chicken. It’s a lot better than getting it from the store.”
It’s Wednesday afternoon, and it’s starting to sprinkle, so we stand inside the 10 foot by 10 foot tin shed in her backyard. There’s several nesting boxes, tree branches laid across wooden beams for the chickens to roost on, and plenty of fenced in space behind the shed for the chickens to roam.
“I let them run around every now and then but lately I’ve been keeping them locked up just because of the whole avian flu going around.”
She breaks up a slice of sprouted grain bread and tosses it into the cage. The brood of ten black, brown and white chickens crowd around, pecking and scratching at the food. Daniels says she’s taking extra precautions caring for her flock due to the threat of avian flu.
“I have special shoes that I, my old combat boots that I had in the Marine Corp, that I wear specifically in there. Before I come into the chicken coop, I change my clothes to make sure I don’t bring anything to my flock.”
It sounds drastic, especially since there haven’t been any cases in North Carolina. But avian influenza is a serious matter. Earlier this year, captive and wild birds in 21 Mid-West states were infected with the virus, leading to the worst outbreak in U.S. history. The seven month ordeal resulted in the deaths of 48 million chickens and turkeys. State Veterinarian with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Doug Meckes says many of the infections in the Midwest originated from backyard flocks.
“Over a period of time, as more and more birds became infected, with the movements of people, with the movements of equipment, the wind carrying the virus, we saw our commercial operations particularly in Minnesota and Iowa become infected.”
The outbreak of avian flu also took an economic toll. Iowa lost half of its poultry population in a matter of months, costing the economy $1.2 billion dollars, according to an article published this week in The Des Moines Register. The economic toll in Minnesota is nearly $650 million dollars.
The reason why the highly pathogenic avian flu is so devastating is because it’s highly contagious. Once it’s been detected, Public Information Officer for the Department of Agriculture Jennifer Kendrick says it has the ability to wipe out an entire flock.
“There’s not much chance of them surviving it and getting better. As long as they’re alive, they’re replicating it, they’re breathing it out and they’re passing it on.”
Avian influenza naturally occurs in wild aquatic birds worldwide. It spreads when birds come into contact with saliva, nasal secretions and feces from infected migratory fowl. According to the CDC, gulls, terns and shorebirds or waterfowl such as ducks, geese and swans are usually hosts.
“We’ve never seen a virus like this, we’ve never seen a virus that’s acted this way. We’ve never seen a virus so virulent that would literally kill an entire house of birds over several days and because of the unusual nature of this virus, we’ve had to take extraordinary measures to begin to think about how we would respond to it.”
On August 1st, precautions that could potentially help curtail the spread of an outbreak took effect in North Carolina. The new rules state that all chicken and turkey owners in the state must register for an NCFarmID number. Kendrick says the data, used solely for animal health purposes, is meant to improve communication between animal health officials and poultry owners.
“If there is a positive a couple miles down the road from you, we want to be able to tell you right away that there is a positive near you, these are the steps you need to take to protect your birds, and that kind of thing.”
Registering your backyard chickens is usually a voluntary program, but now, officials have made it a requirement. And not everyone is happy about the change.
“I feel like it’s a violation on property rights and an intrusion on privacy.”
Backyard chicken owner Genevieve Daniels is already in the Department of Agriculture’s database, so she doesn’t need to register her chickens. Still, Daniels is opposed to the new NCFarmID registration because it gives animal health officials the right to come on her property.
“If I was gone and they just came up on my property, I would feel violated. I mean when you register, you’re kind of signing over your property rights to the State. And that’s something I don’t necessarily agree with especially when it comes to chickens. I think it’s kind of making something a crime that’s not criminal at all.”
In response, State Veterinarian Doug Meckes says the ability to come onto someone’s property is under the federal authority of the USDA, not the State.
“Obviously, there is an opportunity for people to resist that and I know throughout the country, there have been situations where USDA was not able to get on certain properties but they were able to test other birds with individuals that were cooperative in the surrounding area and the determination was made that the area was free of the virus.”
Privacy is a concern echoed by Nicole Revels. She runs the Facebook page "No to NC Chicken Registration, a grassroots effort that began soon after the NCFarmID announcement.
“Chicken owners are almost being targeted for intimidation. Like they’re being placed on a watch list.”
The Facebook campaign garnered more than 1,000 follows in just a week. Now, it’s at more than 1,500 people. Revels is frustrated with how the new rules were put into place. She claims the State Department of Agriculture didn’t go through the proper process outlined in the Administrative Procedures Act.
“It allows for public input over a proposed rule and administrative oversight before the rule is adopted. But they bypassed all that by invoking a part of the North Carolina Statute that basically says we’re under a State of Emergency. And under this statute, all they need is approval of Gov. Pat McCrory in order to implement their rules.”
On July 2nd, the governor signed an order stating that North Carolina is in a state of “agriculture emergency.” State Veterinarian Doug Meckes says since there is an imminent threat of avian flu, the new rule allow emergency measures and procedures to be implemented in the event of an outbreak, with the approval of Gov. McCrory.
This fall, migratory birds will fly south for the winter and avian flu could pose a threat.
“We saw in Minnesota and Iowa a total of 180 premises, or 180 farms that were infected with this virus. So, in eastern North Carolina, we could have 180 premises in one county potentially affected by this virus.”
According to the State Poultry Federation, North Carolina ranks third nationally in total poultry production. The industry’s economic impact is $34.4 billion dollars. If an outbreak of avian influenza were to occur, Meckes says it could cause billions of dollars in economic loss.
“It’s not just the poultry industry, it’s the processing plant, it’s the feed industry, it’s the equipment providers, there’s a ripple effect from the industry that moves out into banking, transportation, folks can’t make their mortgage payments on their homes, their cars.”
Meckes admits this is a worst case scenario. He says getting ahead of an outbreak before it causes devastating losses is the goal of the new registration program.
“If we don’t know where the birds are, we’re not able to appropriately test and find ourselves free of disease in a controlled area and release those quarantines.”
Which takes us back to the Backyard Flock Registration Form. It requires that you provide your name, your mailing address, and phone number so you can be notified in case of an outbreak. Information about the types and number birds you keep is optional.
While the North Carolina Department of Agriculture is requiring backyard poultry owners to sign up, Public Information Officer Jennifer Kendrick there’s no penalty if you don’t do it.
“We’re not going to knock on people’s doors and make them show proof that they’ve done it, but we really are encouraging anyone to do it.”
Back in New Bern, backyard chicken owner Genevieve Daniels says she’s doesn’t trust the new registration system. She’s encouraging her friends, who also own poultry, not to sign up.
“Just because you register your chickens isn’t going to magically protect them from any kind of disease and I think a registration is just a convenient list for them to find people who have backyard chickens and do whatever they wish.”
For more information and to view the Backyard Flock Registration Form, go to http://www.ncagr.gov/avianflu/#tabs-19