Poultry Farmers: "We're Ready"

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Diane Kelley has been raising chickens in Sebastopol for the last sixteen years. She says that, with the threat of the bird flu, she is preparing her chicken houses to fight the disease.

Visitors are restricted to the poultry company and maintenance crews. And when they do come, they are required to wear protective clothing and boots.

"It's nothing new. No more now than we've been doing," said Kelley. "We've been cautious for 16 years because, when this is your living, you have to take precautions."

If or when the bird flu will be affecting this part of the country, no one knows. What experts do know is that flocks of birds infected with the bird flu are heading north to Alaska. They are speculating that by this summer, the virus could be in the lower 48 states.

"Worst-case scenario is, you might have an outbreak on the east coast, and somewhere in the south, and somewhere on the west coast," said Mike Johanns, United States Secretary of Agriculture.

If the disease were to affect local farmers, Kelley says it would put a damper on business, but it would only be temporary.

"It would put you out of business for a while because you wouldn't be able to grow chickens," said Kelley. "You wouldn't want to. You would have to let the disease die down before you could even have birds back in your farm."

"Biosecurity is a major priority for our company. We at Tyson started increasing our on-farm surveillance last fall as an added precaution to ensure the safety of our operations and products," said Tyson Foods representative Gary Mickelson. "We're currently conducting about 15,000 tests per week for Avian influenza."

Mickelson pointed out that properly cooked chicken, even if it came from an infected bird, is safe to eat.

And Diane Kelley and her family said her family will continue eating and raising chicken.

"We've had problems with other kinds of animals and we haven't stopped eating that meat," Kelley said.

Mississippi is the nation's fifth largest producer of chicken broilers.

East Mississippi is the center of the state's poultry industry, especially Scott County. It produces more chickens than any other county in the state, over 105 million a year.

Neshoba and Newton counties produce about 50 million broilers a year. There are also significant numbers produced in Wayne, Jasper, Clarke, and Kemper counties.