Iowa agriculture department shuts down bird contests at fairs to prevent bird flu spread

Donnelle Eller
Des Moines Register

In an effort to curb the spread of bird flu, the Iowa Department of Agriculture issued an order Wednesday canceling all live bird competitions and exhibits, potentially impacting summer county fairs and the Iowa State Fair.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture also said it's prohibiting live bird sales at livestock auctions, markets, swap meets and exotic sales.

The state agency said the order would remain in place until 30 days had passed without a new case of avian influenza.

“At this time, we do not know how long this outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza will last or if the Iowa State Fair will be impacted by this order," said Chloe Carson, the Iowa ag department's spokeswoman.

"As long as migratory birds are moving through the state, we run the risk of continued infection and must take all precautions necessary to protect our poultry flocks,” she said.

The order covers activities where birds may comingle and spread the disease, and doesn't prevent the sale of chicks at Iowa stores, Carson said.

Iowa commercial and backyard flocks have been hit with bird flu, requiring about 6.3 million birds to be destroyed so far.

The state has reported five outbreaks of avian influenza since March 1. So far, 6.3 million laying hens, turkeys and poults in commercial facilities and backyard flocks of ducks and chickens have been destroyed to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease.

“Protecting animal health and Iowa’s agriculture-based economy remain our top priorities,” Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said in a statement.

As avian influenza "continues to impact poultry flocks across the state and nation, it is essential that we take every possible step to reduce the risk of spreading the virus," Naig said. "Biosecurity remains our best line of defense.”

State and federal agencies said none of the birds nor any poultry products from flocks where avian influenza is detected will reach U.S. food supplies. No human cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza have been detected in the United States.

MORE: 5.3 million laying hens to be destroyed as bird flu reported at fourth Iowa facility

The state agriculture department is urging poultry owners to prevent contact between their flocks and wild birds, which they believe are the likely source of the disease. Iowa is part of the Mississippi flyway, a migration route for millions of birds each year.

The state agency said the Iowa Poultry Association had recommended the cancellation of bird exhibitions.

Iowa leads the nation in egg production, with 55 million laying hens producing 16 billion eggs annually, and it ranks seventh nationally for turkey production, raising 12 million birds a year. 

Highly pathogenic avian influenza was first detected almost 30 years ago in China. A 2015 outbreak led to the destruction of 32.7 million laying hens, turkeys and other birds in Iowa. That was about two-thirds of the 50.5 million that were destroyed nationally in what is considered the worst foreign animal disease outbreak on record.

Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at or 515-284-8457.