Thursday, December 20, 2018

Contagious poultry disease in California jumps from backyards to a commercial flock

Dr. Dana R Dobbs
WSDA Field Veterinarian, Avian Health Lead

The vND virus can infect many bird species including chickens,
 turkeys, ducks, geese, and game birds. Infected birds shed
 large amounts of virus in respiratory fluids and feces.
An outbreak of virulent Newcastle disease (vND) in several Southern California backyard flocks has advanced to a commercial flock, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed last week.

Disease not detected in Washington

So far, no backyard flocks or commercial poultry operations in Washington have detected diseased birds associated with this most recent outbreak of the deadly poultry disease.

Virulent Newcastle disease is not a food safety concern.  No human cases of Newcastle disease have ever occurred from eating poultry products.  Properly cooked poultry products are safe to eat.  In very rare instances, people working directly with sick birds can become infected with mild symptoms, such as conjunctivitis.

Eradication efforts

In California, virulent Newcastle disease has continued to spread since in was detected in May.

There had been 234 cases involving backyard birds in California this year despite eradication efforts by USDA-APHIS and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

Last week, USDA confirmed the presence of vND in a commercial chicken flock in Riverside County, California. The sick flock was completely depopulated within 24 hours of the positive finding. It was first case found in commercial poultry since 2003.

Keep virulent Newcastle disease out of Washington

Because the disease spreads quickly and represents a major economic risk to the poultry industry, WSDA asks local poultry growers and those with backyard flocks to keep their guard up.

One of the most likely pathways for the disease to find its way into Washington is a pet bird such as a parrot, said Washington State Veterinarian Brian Joseph. Exotic birds often carry the disease without visible symptoms. 

Poultry owners and veterinarians should be familiar with the clinical signs and actions to take if the disease is suspected. Report any cases to the WSDA Sick Bird Hotline at 1-800-606-3056.

How can I protect my flock?

Virulent Newcastle Disease (previously Exotic Newcastle Disease) is a viral disease that affects all species of birds. Its primary mode of transmission is aerosols and / or direct contact with infected birds and their saliva or feces. The disease has a rapid onset, with an average of 5 days post exposure, and can be fatal. Besides respiratory secretions, the virus can be found in bedding, contaminated food / water, or on farm equipment and clothing. Therefore, it is essential that all flock owners have sound biosecurity practices in place.

Clinical signs to look for:

Sudden, unexplained death in the flock or high mortality
Coughing, sneezing, gasping for air
Depression, decreased appetite, green diarrhea
Changes in egg production
Paralysis of the legs or wings, twisting of the neck, tremors, circling
Swelling around the eyes and neck

** vND may cause transient conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) or flu like symptoms in humans. Properly cooked poultry products are safe to consume.

Don’t delay, report sick birds right away. 

WSDA Avian Health Program Sick Bird Hotline: 1-800-606-3056
Your local veterinarian
Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab (WADDL): 509-335-9696
Avian Health and Food Safety Lab (AHFSL): 253-445-4537

**Veterinarians - It is extremely important that oropharyngeal samples are submitted to the laboratory for an accurate diagnosis and the owner takes precautions to limit the spread of disease in the meantime. Please call Beth Reitz at the State Veterinarian’s office if you have questions or would like to discuss an unusual case: 360-725-5494.

Disease prevention starts with good biosecurity practices:

Purchase birds from National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) hatcheries or producers
Isolate new birds from the rest of the flock for at least 30 days. This also applies to birds returning from fairs or shows
Restrict traffic onto and off of your property and avoid visits to other poultry operations; especially during an outbreak
Have dedicated clothing and boots for use in the poultry area
Isolate sick birds and visit them last during daily operations such as feeding or egg collection
Disinfect clothes, boots, equipment and wash hands after handling poultry
Keep poultry houses and feeders clean and provide a fresh water source
While there is a vaccine for vND, it may not prevent the disease

Please visit USDA Bulletin for more information about virulent Newcastle disease.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Keeping cow poop out of the water

Chris McGann

Holstein dairy cows at Plowman Dairy in Yelm.
If the true test of Dairy Nutrient Management planning is how well a facility handles rain, you could say WSDA’s Kyrre Flege scored perfect conditions this week when he drove out to the Plowman Dairy near Yelm for a regular inspection.

The rain had been coming down hard overnight and it was still pouring when Flege pulled into the yard outside Matt Plowman’s barns. Two stout, square-headed, brown dogs, Milo and Otis, greeted Flege with friendly barks and tails wagging as he stepped out of the gray state vehicle into a wet gray day -- and a mud puddle.

Otis and Milo give a warm hello before an
 inspection at Plowman Dairy.  
WSDA regulators inspect dairy farms on roughly 18-month intervals in large part to make sure some of the site visits occur during the rainy months.

Mission accomplished.
“Today is going to be the wettest inspection this dairy has had in several years,” Flege said.

Keeping water clean and clear

Dairy Nutrient Management is a WSDA program established to protect water quality from livestock nutrient discharge -- or in other words, to make sure producers keep their cow poop out of the water.

The program helps educate those who don't know that they have to keep poop out of the water, and penalizes those who know the rules, but don’t follow them.

In addition to education and equitable enforcement of state and federal water quality laws, Dairy Nutrient Management aims to help maintain a healthy agricultural business climate through clear guidance and technical assistance.

The top concerns for managing dairy manure are preventing harmful bacteria from contaminating surface water and preventing nitrogen from seeping into ground water.

The risks
Matt Plowman talks with Kyrre Flege about some of the
 proactive measures he has taken to protect water quality.

Runoff contaminated by manure or feed from a dairy could allow fecal coliform bacteria, pathogens, nutrients and sediment to get into surface water such as creeks and rivers. It threatens human health, fish and other wildlife.

Most dairy manure is stored in lagoons during wet months and then applied as fertilizer during the growing season and when there is less risk that it will contaminate surface water as runoff.

Dairy farmers must also monitor soil nitrogen levels in their fields to make sure they only applied what is necessary for their crops. If the nitrogen load exceeds that need, it could seep into groundwater and create a public health risk.

“If you can’t show why your crops need it, most people would call it waste disposal,” Flege said.

Taking pride in the family farm

A well-cared-for Holstein dairy cow stays dry during a
December storm. 
Matt Plowman sauntered up to meet us outside, offering a generous smile and a handshake before beginning the two-hour assessment. The life-long farmer clearly takes pride in caring for his cows and maintaining the operation he took over from his father.

“I think these cows get treated better than people,” he said. “They each have a nutritionist, regular pedicures and weekly doctor visits.”

Plowman guided Flege through the well-kept facilities, past the feed bins, silage bunkers and through the calf barn to the three large lagoons in the field behind. A steady flow of foamy manure slurry poured into the first. They walked the perimeter and observed the pipes and pumps that kept moving manure through the system.

Kyrre Flege inspects the inflow at one of the Plowman Dairy
 manure lagoons. 
“Some people say we get milk as a byproduct of our manure production,” Plowman said with a wry grin.

Making a big splash

Dairy Nutrient Management is a good fit for Flege, the program’s lead regulator.

Flege majored in environmental resource management at Western Washington University. He has been with WSDA for five years. Building on his experience inspecting dairies in the Lynden area, he recently moved to Olympia, where he now supervises inspectors statewide and covers dairy inspections in Southwest Washington.

“I like the work,” Flege said. “It’s an opportunity to protect our resources and water quality. I feel like we can make a big difference.”

Relationships are key to providing effective support for
proper manure management.
Flege says the program’s regulatory role dovetails well with its mandate to provide education and support.

“We build relationships with producers and we work really hard to help them understand the value of protecting resources,” he said. “The industry’s future depends on being environmentally sustainable. There is no future for dairy farming if it comes at the cost of water quality.”

Record keeping

After the facility inspection, Flege joined Plowman in the office to review his record keeping – a cornerstone of the program’s mission.

The law says you can’t discharge pollution to surface or groundwater.

Matt Plowman helps Kyrre Flege understand the
geography of his farm.
“You have to keep records,” Flege said. “Complete records tell a story of how well you manage manure for your crops and the environment. Having a well maintained facility, sound record keeping, and following guidance in your Dairy Nutrient Management Plan will keep you in compliance."

Flege studied the application records, soil analysis results and detailed maps of the dairy. He asked questions to make sure he understood the topography and the drainage.

He explained his findings to Plowman, complimenting him on the safe nitrogen levels in his fields and properly functioning waste water management systems.

“Your lagoons are in great shape,” Flege said. “And the curbs you have in place are handling the rain on a very wet day.”

But Flege also noted that the heavy rain was overloading the driveway storm water runoff filter at the low end of the feed yard.

Before leaving, Flege promised to work with Plowman and help connect him to resources to upgrade that element.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Romaine returns: what you should know

Karla Salp

Romaine lettuce will soon be back on supermarket shelves.
Caesar salad lovers everywhere will soon be celebrating romaine lettuce’s return to local produce shelves. But with repeated recalls over the last several months, you may still have lingering concerns about buying romaine and other leafy greens. Here’s some food for thought.

What happened? 

Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a food safety alert about romaine lettuce linked to a multi-state E. coli outbreak. The alert called on stores to remove all romaine lettuce from the shelves and warned the public against buying or eating any romaine.

Investigations subsequently identified the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California as the likely source of romaine lettuce that sickened 43 people. At this point, no common grower, distributor, or brand has been identified.

This week, CDC lifted its food safety alert for all lettuce, except romaine grown in the Central Coast region of California, where the romaine harvest is already over for the year.

What about Washington lettuce? 

If you are sure you are buying Washington-grown romaine lettuce, you can purchase it knowing our state is not believed to be part of the outbreak.

Can I eat lettuce from other states?


Romaine lettuce from the growing areas near Yuma, Arizona or Imperial County and Riverside County in California; the state of Florida; and Mexico is not linked to this outbreak.  Romaine that has been grown indoors has not been associated with the outbreak.

Romaine returning to the shelves should be labeled with a harvest location and date.

If you aren’t sure where the romaine lettuce was harvested, the CDC still recommends against eating it.

Is produce contamination only a problem on big farms? 


Although consumers can become ill from food grown on large or small farms, there are many safeguards in place to help protect consumers. Federal regulations require large farms to adopt practices that prevent the spread of foodborne illness – particularly in foods that are consumed raw, like lettuce. While farms defined as “very small” are not required to comply with these regulations, many take training and employ food safety practices anyway.

What is WSDA doing to keep Washington produce safe to eat?

In 2016, WSDA started a new Produce Safety Program to focus on providing training and education in partnership with Washington State University about how to improve produce safety on farms as well as comply with federal regulations. Here are upcoming trainings in Washington:
Yakima – 12/6 (FULL)
Tacoma – 1/29/19
Anacortes – 2/19/2019
Richland – 3/6/19

WSDA also offers a free, educational farm visits, called On-Farm Readiness Reviews, to help farms prepare for compliance with produce safety inspections that will begin next year.

What can I do improve the safety of the raw vegetables I eat? 

Here are tips from the CDC to reduce your risk from eating raw fruits and vegetables:

Wash your hands, kitchen utensils, and food preparation surfaces, including chopping boards and countertops, before and after preparing fruits and vegetables.
Clean fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or cooking, unless the package says the contents have been washed.
Keep fruits and vegetables separate from raw foods from animals, such as meat, poultry, and seafood.
Refrigerate fruits and vegetables you have cut, peeled, or cooked within 2 hours.
It is important to remember that eating produce provides many health benefits. Growers, processors, and the government take food safety seriously. You can help by taking simple steps like properly cooking and washing your produce to further reduce even the minimal risk that fresh produce presents.