A popular weekly livestock auction was disrupted Tuesday when government regulators discovered that about 20 chickens had been transported to sale from a bird flu quarantine area.
East Hempfield Township Police were called to the Gray Stone Animal Sale at Root’s Country Market in East Hempfield Township around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to mediate a dispute between auction staff and federal regulators who insisted the birds in question be tested for avian flu before buyers. would remove all the birds. birds of the auction.
Supervisors called in testing officials, who concluded that the birds were not infected and could be taken off the auction, but who bears the responsibility of letting the chickens pass the auction block in the first place is a matter of contention, according to Gray Stone Co. owner Dale Nolt.
“Of course we are partly responsible,” Nolt said on Wednesday, but he noted that regulators were also on hand to check sellers as they registered. Regulators didn’t discover the problem birds until the sale was nearly over, he said.
Shannon Powers, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, did not blame regulators. “Compliance with quarantine requirements is the responsibility of producers and the market,” said Powers. “The requirements have been communicated extensively during and prior to the avian flu outbreak in Pennsylvania.”
According to Nolt, the birds came from a backyard chicken breeder who lives in a portion of Lancaster County that has been quarantined by state and federal regulators for its proximity to one of eight local farms infected with the deadly, highly contagious virus. from mid-October. April. Since May 10, no new cases of the virus have been confirmed at a poultry farm in the province.
Within quarantine zones, rules restrict the movement of poultry and related materials to prevent flu transmission. Birds reared in a quarantine zone cannot be sold without special permission, Powers said.
“Birds sold at Root’s Market yesterday, bantams from a producer in an active control area, were mixed with other birds on the market before they could be properly controlled by the department,” Powers said. “These birds had not been tested and the producer did not have a movement permit to transport them, as required by the quarantine. Markets are prohibited from selling birds from within a control zone without these permits.”
At Root’s, dozens of birds of various species are kept stacked in cages before being purchased and taken home by buyers, some of whom live out of state. More than 300 birds were on sale Tuesday, Powers said.
The Root’s auction site is located just outside the quarantine zones but is still within a designated surveillance area where increased surveillance applies, the state’s Department of Agriculture said.
Nolt said he suspected that the seller of the banned chickens did not know the rules. Someone should have noticed the problem long before the seller’s birds were allowed into the auction shed, he said, but the problem was discovered long after the arrival of the banned chickens, when a supervisor found a document showing they were in a quarantine zone. farmed, Nolt said. By that time, the auction was nearing completion, he said.
Regulators responded quickly, calling on auctioneers to cease operations for the evening and tell buyers that no birds could be removed from the barn until the issue was resolved, he said.
At first, Nolt said, it felt a bit overly aggressive, with auction workers protesting, asking regulators to delay their response until senior officials could intervene.
Then the police were called, according to East Hempfield Lt. Matthew Pohle.
“Our agents were able to mediate and an agreement was reached… in which none of the birds in question would be taken off the auction until they were tested,” he said.
Regulators had sent testers to the auction early Tuesday night, Pohle said.
Powers provided additional details.
“Buyers whose birds were delayed until they were culled were cooperative. The market is not equipped to safely house birds at night, so PA Department of Agriculture and USDA personnel on site and in the labs worked overtime to complete the tests,” she said. cleared at 12:25 p.m. today and buyers took their birds home.”
In a typical week, buyers would have been on their way home around 9 p.m., Nolt said.
Sales of non-poultry at the auction were not slowed down, Powers said.
Police have not filed charges, but agricultural officials are investigating whether legal action should be taken, Powers said.
Though talks were tense at times on Tuesday night, Nolt said he has no ill feelings toward state or federal agricultural regulators with whom he has long worked. He simply described the incident as an amateur poultry breeder’s mistake.
“Nothing like this has ever happened before. We want to have a good auction,” Nolt said, pointing out that millions of birds have been sold through his auction over the past two decades. “We want people to feel comfortable.”
The quarantine arrangement and information about the responsibilities of poultry farmers and sellers can be found at farming.pa.gov/avianinfluenza and on the PA Veterinary Diagnostic Lab System website, padls.agriculture.pa.gov.