Exotic Newcastle Disease costs soaring

February 25, 2003 12:00 am

By JASON ECK

and The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Governments have spent more than $35 million and imposed quarantines in three states to stop the spread of a poultry disease that has stripped many farmers of their flocks and forced others to pay high disinfecting costs, industry officials say.

Since October, when Exotic Newcastle Disease was discovered in backyard flocks in Los Angeles County, the federal government has spent $22 million and the state $13 million to pay for operating the Los Alamitos-based task force dealing with the disease, said Larry Cooper of the California Department of Agriculture.

Poultry and egg industries are also drowning in new costs, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture-commissioned study. Those costs include disinfection and biosecurity upgrades and losses in sales and exports.

‘‘Even simple things like disinfecting are beyond the reach of a lot of farmers,'' said Paul Bahan, owner of AAA Egg Farms in Riverside County's San Jacinto Valley. ‘‘We're pretty much running on empty and have been for a while.''

Disinfectant alone costs AAA between $400 and $600 a week, he said.

About 2.1 million birds have been destroyed since the disease was discovered.

Diestel Turkey Ranch near Sonora has already taken steps to increase biosecurity on its ranches, said owner Tim Diestel. The company raises turkeys at its home farm on Lyons-Bald Mountain Road and at four ranches in the La Grange area.

Diestel said his ranch is run with "fairly high" biohazard practices. But, he said, he has taken steps above and beyond the ranch's current practices to protect against Exotic Newcastle Disease.

Diestel requires workers who have direct contact with birds to shower before and after entering a ranch facility. They must wear coveralls over their street clothes and wash their shoes before entering a pen area and again when they leave — a policy the ranch had in place before the Exotic Newcastle Disease reports.