In early 2004, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) launched the Biosecurity For Birds outreach initiative in response to the outbreak in 2002/2003 of exotic Newcastle disease (END) in California and other Western states.
This was the largest animal disease outbreak in the United States in 30 years. It took 10 months to eradicate and when it was over the State and Federal governments had spent more than $160 million, and four million birds were depopulated. While a majority of the birds came from commercial operations, many also came from backyard flocks and bird enthusiasts.
To prevent another disease outbreak of this magnitude, the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Veterinary Services (VS) continues to work with individual states on disease surveillance aimed at non-commercial poultry and bird owners. And the Biosecurity For Birds program is continuing its mission to educate backyard poultry owners and bird enthusiasts about the steps they can take to prevent infectious poultry diseases such as END and avian influenza (AI) and what to do in the event a disease outbreak is suspected.
Biosecurity For Birds has been a highly effective public outreach initiative that has made millions of people more aware and better prepared to deal with AI and END. Its target audience is backyard poultry and bird owners, as well as pet bird owners. Because these audiences are diverse, not regulated by USDA, and are spread throughout the country, reaching them has presented outreach challenges that continue to be met with creative thinking and some "outside the box" activities in addition to more traditional approaches. The campaign was kicked off by convening a meeting of more than 60 agricultural communicators from states across the country. Some key elements of the Biosecurity For Birds efforts include:
In addition to more traditional advertising venues like running spots on ag radio and print ads in farming-related publications such as Progressive Farmer and Hobby Farms, it was found that many poultry owners responded to ads in magazines published by their local electrical co-operatives and from their local feed stores. These co-operative publications reach millions of readers at a fraction of the cost of more traditional agriculture publications, and interest in Biosecurity For Birds has born this out.
APHIS identified some very effective avenues for reaching backyard poultry owners. In addition to more traditional advertising venues like ag radio and farming-related publications, it was found that many poultry owners received information from magazines published by their local electrical co-operatives and from their local feed stores. These co-operative publications reach millions of readers at a fraction of the cost of more traditional agriculture publications, and interest in Biosecurity For Birds has born this out.
Since everyone has to feed their birds, APHIS reached out to a number of feed companies, which agreed to run ads on their feed sacks at a nominal cost. Since then, these Biosecurity For Birds feed sacks have found their way onto the shelves of local feed stores and major retailers, such as Wal-Mart, across the country. It is estimated that millions of people have seen these low-cost and useful advertisements.
Ethnic communities are among the most important and most difficult audiences to reach regarding AI and END. Language and cultural differences can make it challenging to educate ethnic audiences and build the trust necessary to report concerns about AI and END to the proper authorities.
APHIS employed several methods for reaching these groups. These included running ads in publications that catered to Hispanic, Vietnamese, Filipino, Hmong, Native American and Amish publications in target states. In addition, APHIS created a Spanish-language education package that was distributed to Catholic archdioceses with large Spanish-speaking congregations. Materials included a Spanish-language video about AI and END, Spanish-language "tracts" that fit into tract-holders in churches, as well as various brochures and other outreach materials. APHIS has produced all its materials in Spanish, and some materials in Vietnamese, Traditional Chinese and Tagalog.
APHIS has partnered with 4-H and FFA to provide a variety of educational materials about AI and END to the next generation of poultry owners. Initiatives include the AI Fairs program, where APHIS provides FFA and 4-H groups with biosecurity-related materials such as signage, brochures, drink cups and giveaways so that they can set up informational booths (often near poultry exhibits) at county and state fairs. This program, called AIFairs, is ongoing. To learn more about displaying AI materials at your fair, visit here.
Other efforts include a distance learning program developed in conjunction with FFA to teach high school students the science of AI and END and how and why biosecurity practices are important. Most recently, FFA and APHIS produced a brief video for students on biosecurity.
Research shows that many backyard poultry owners and bird enthusiasts rely on the Internet for information about their birds. With this in mind, APHIS reached out to PetSmart Charities, which hosted two webinars on the subject of AI for bird owners on their website. Early in the campaign, APHIS utilized Google's Adwords program, which allowed poultry and bird owners searching for information about AI and END to more quickly find the Biosecurity For Birds website.
APHIS has developed a wide array of educational materials that are helping to inform backyard poultry owners and bird enthusiasts about AI and END. These materials run the gamut from brochures, fact sheets and posters to calendars, videos and a comprehensive guidebook. These materials can be obtained by visiting the Biosecurity For Birds order and download page. One of the most popular items is the bilingual biosecurity calendar. In order to reach as wide an audience as possible, APHIS has produced all materials in Spanish, and some materials in Vietnamese, Traditional Chinese and Tagalog.
In 2006, one of the major initiatives was a series of avian influenza poultry preparedness briefings held in four locations across the country: Georgetown, Delaware; Gainesville, Georgia; Madison, Wisconsin; and Tacoma, Washington. These briefings were attended by nearly 1,000 stakeholders, including backyard poultry owners, extension office representatives, organic growers and representatives from various state and federal agencies. These briefings were also covered by many media outlets, including the Associated Press, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, Wisconsin Public Radio, Reuters, Fox News and a myriad of local television stations and community newspapers.