An early morning look at part of the 2015 Midwest Poultry Federation Convention show floor last week, just before the event opened.
March, for me, was consumed with putting the final planning touches on the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention. This is an event that my office spends a good chunk of the year getting ready for. It's also the largest regional poultry show in the U.S. - with a heavy emphasis on education for poultry farmers and two exhibit halls full of companies showcasing their latest equipment, services and technology.
While we definitely had a successful event, something did get in the way of the attendance we were expecting: Highly-Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or HPAI for short. (You can read about this more fully in my previous blog post here.)
About three weeks prior to the convention, HPAI broke in one turkey flock in Minnesota, putting the turkey industry on high alert and nerves on edge for many farmers. A week or so later, the same strain was found in Missouri and Arkansas.
While this news can sound like a death knell for poultry farmers - this strain of HPAI quickly devastated the entire flock of turkeys in Minnesota within days - it does NOT pose a human health threat or food safety risk. This is a virus that can spread from wild birds to commercial poultry, but it does not enter the food supply and no humans with close contact to infected birds have gotten sick.
Nevertheless, poultry farmers are concerned and the entire industry is watching things closely this spring. That concern led some people to bypass attending the MPF Convention, choosing instead to stay close to home.
As the show organizers of MPF, our office immediately contacted avian health experts to get their take on whether or not it makes sense to limit traveling to a show such as ours because of the HPAI threat. Their take? It doesn't make sense. By following a few common sense biosecurity rules (that farmers should be following already), people could rest assured that attending the MPF Convention would not elevate the threat of HPAI.
But despite that message, some people did stay away. It's unfortunate because they missed hearing all the latest information about HPAI from a whole passel of experts, whom we brought in last minute to calm fears and provide education on what farmers can do to ensure the safety and health of their flocks. That's really what meetings like the MPF Convention are all about - bringing together farmers, poultry companies, industry folks, and experts to learn from and network with each other.
Nevertheless, I am fully aware that HPAI is a serious threat and I do understand why farmers may have chosen to stay close to home and close to their birds. This is scary stuff that has the potential to impact livelihoods.
Still, I have to admit on a personal level for me, it's a little frustrating that the very industry that prides itself on believing in what good science tells us would run nervously away from a meeting when standard biosecurity measures (such as showering before arriving and upon getting back home, and not wearing barn clothes or shoes to the event) would go a long way in keeping everyone (and their birds) safe.
I am happy to say, though, that we were able to make the best of the situation by bringing in a local Twin Cities television news station to broadcast live from our show floor, talking to a farmer and an HPAI expert. They spoke about how so many people, organizations, companeis, and government agencies are working together to alleviate the threat of HPAI; they reassured consumers that there is nothing to worry about from a food safety standpoint (keep eating your turkey, people!); and they showed that the poultry industry values events like MPF because of the education and networking offered to farmers. It was encouraging to see these positive, proactive messages of substance on our local news.
Minnesota Turkey Growers Association President John Gorton spoke to KARE-11 TV, live from the MPF Convention show floor last week.