PA braces for fall migration

By on June 24, 2015

Sauder Eggs taking precautions to dodge encroaching avian flu epidemic

Jeff Zerbe of Sauder Eggs does a thorough job on his truck, inside and out. He also sterilizes his shoes and wears protective gloves to avoid any chance of cross contamination.

Anyone who steps foot onto a Sauder Eggs farm must disinfect their feet and don a rubber over-boot before they go to the poultry house. Tractor trailers entering farms are sterilized.

Avian Influenza, or H5N2, has not entered Pennsylvania, but suppliers such as Sauder Eggs in Lititz are preparing just in case it does. The virus has been discovered in three wild Canada geese caught in Macomb County, Michigan, just 150 miles across Lake Erie in northern part of the state.

“The wheels, tires, and insides of the trailers,” said Mark Sauder, vice president of Sauder Eggs, which employs 400 people and buys eggs from 120 farms throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland. “We are disinfecting their shoes, and they are wearing disposable gloves so that we have the least amount of opportunity for cross contamination from one farm to another that we could possibly have.”

So far, it has wiped out an estimated 47 million birds in the Midwest. To put that into perspective, experts say there are about 300 million birds (hens, turkey, chickens) in the United States.

But the avian flu epidemic has not impacted the supply of eggs here. And, this strain of avian flu is not a health threat to humans, experts say. Other strains are.

Initially, due to the outbreak, egg prices rose 100 percent, Sauder said. But they have come down some.

His concern &tstr; everyone’s concern &tstr; is the fall migration. Pennsylvania is on the Atlantic flyway. Experts suspect that waterfowl such as Canada geese and ducks carry the virus.

For now, as the Midwest continues to combat the outbreak, Pennsylvania is on guard. Lancaster County has the largest population of laying hens in the nation. The Commonwealth is the fourth largest producer of table eggs behind Iowa, Ohio and Indiana respectively, according to 2014 USDA Nass survey data.

LR20150625_SauderEggs022“We have an outbreak that is continuing in the Midwest,” said Gregory Martin, poultry educator with the Penn State extension for Lancaster County. “There are steps we have taken in the Commonwealth to help reduce our exposure.”

Martin said poultry houses already enact security measures. Now they are taking additional safety measures. He compared it to being accustomed to riding in a car with a seatbelt, and then adding a helmet.

Some of the new measures include the protective footwear and keeping the birds indoors. The state Department of Agriculture has also eliminated bird shows, including the farm show, he said.

He also added some perspective to the seriousness of the avian flu’s impact. If the birds were people, it would have wiped out the population of New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles twice.

“If we look at it like that, it is mind-alerting the number of birds that have been lost to this,” he said. “Once they get sick, they die.”

From the Midwest to the South, restaurants are starting to feel the hit. A grocery chain, H-E-B Stores in Houston, has begun limiting the number of eggs customers can buy to three dozen, according to the Houston Press.

“This is something we are watching very closely,” Martin said.

Sauder Eggs has 6.2 million egg layers of the 300 million layers in the United States, amounting to 2 percent of the national egg production. An outbreak would be devastating.

“Obviously, this is a major issue for our industry,” Sauder said.

Paul Sauder, president and owner of Sauder Eggs, who is also chairman of the American Egg Board, could not be reached for comment. He is out of the country.

A call was also made to Tom Beachler, operating manager of Kreider Farms in Manheim, but he referred all questions to Chris Herr, executive vice president with PENNAG Industries Association, a service member organization that represents agriculture businesses.

Egg production represents $13 billion in economic equity to Pennsylvania, according to data provided by the state Department of Agriculture. It is associated with 53,000 jobs.

Brandi Hunter-Davenport, state Department of Agriculture spokeswoman, said the state has plans in place if the avian flu arrives to minimize its impact, she said. Now the state is working to ensure that biosecurity measures are being enacted.

Robyn Meadows is a freelance feature writer for the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback at robynmeadowshodgson@gmail.com. 

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