- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2002

TIMBERVILLE, Va. (AP) David Hughes has raised turkeys on his farm for all but 2 months of this year. He hasn't been paid for it since February.
In April, a flock of turkeys he was growing on the farm in northern Rockingham County was diagnosed with avian flu and destroyed. The disease has taken about $140,000 of his annual income, said Mr. Hughes, who hopes to be paid this month.
"We're still borrowing money and scraping to get by," he said, adding that some poultry farmers are on the verge of bankruptcy. "I'm pretty close to it, but I'm hanging in there."
It has been more than three months without any new cases of the disease, a respiratory ailment that contaminated 197 farms in the Shenandoah Valley at a cost of $130 million, the worst avian-flu epidemic in recent memory.
The seven farms still quarantined are likely to be allowed to raise birds again in the coming weeks, but the financial devastation left by the flu will linger. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay $69.2 million to growers to ease the burden, but farmers and the state want more.
Gary and Linda Cline raise about 15,000 meat turkeys at a time for Cargill Inc. on a farm in McGaheysville, in eastern Rockingham County.
On March 12, the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, confirmed the year's first case of avian flu, in Keezletown, just west of their farm.
Unlike other avian-flu infections in recent years, this bug began to spread.
By late April, the Clines' hens showed unmistakable signs of avian flu: A house full of birds that usually clucked and scampered about instead sat lethargically.
"Ordinarily, they make a path for you when you walk in, and by the time you turn around, the path is gone," Mr. Cline said.
"But when they're sick and you walk through, you turn around and you can see your path all the way to the door. They just move out of your way and sit there."
The birds were diagnosed with the flu, then gassed by state workers and taken away to be incinerated.
Mr. Cline filmed the event. Mrs. Cline stayed inside their house across the street. She could not watch.
"It was just frustrating because, after all the time and effort you put into them they have to be destroyed," she said.
Though they have passed a required state inspection and have a new batch of hens, the Clines estimate that they lost as much as $30,000 from the flock loss and subsequent idling. They have had to borrow to pay their mortgage.
Like Mr. Hughes, they hoped the state would reimburse for the destruction.
But State Veterinarian William Sims lacks the authority to pay farmers back, said Elaine Lidholm, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
"He deals with the health of the animals and stopping the spread of the disease," she said, adding that the state cannot afford to reimburse farmers hit by the avian flu.
Gov. Mark R. Warner announced Sept. 27 that he is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reimburse farmers for all avian-related losses, not just the 50 percent promised.
The Virginia Poultry Federation is working on an agreement with the state to ensure a better response in future avian-flu outbreaks.
"We want to make sure we have the best possible biosecurity, the best possible surveillance and the best possible rapid-response plan for disposal," spokesman Hobey Bauhan said.
"It's just imperative that we stay in very close communication for the sake of all those involved."


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