MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — State Fair goers will notice something missing from this year’s “Great Minnesota Get Together.”
All birds have been banned from the fairgrounds. It’s in response to the outbreak of avian influenza spreading across Minnesota farms.READ MORE: Eli Hart’s Former Foster Mom Remembers 'An Amazing Kid'
In just over two months, avian influenza has impacted nearly 5.8 million birds in 21 counties, and the close quarters of the State Fair offer the perfect conditions for the virus to spread.
Each year, 2,200 birds move through the poultry building over the State Fair’s 12 days. This year, the barn will be empty.
“We’re disappointed, certainly we are, but we also know this is the right thing to do,” State Fair General Manager Jerry Hammer said.
Concerns over the highly-contagious H5N2 virus triggered a rare order by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health to cancel all bird exhibits in the state to prevent further spread.
In other words, no poultry of any kind will be allowed on the fair grounds.
“It was not a difficult decision to make,” Minnesota Board of Animal Health’s Assistant Director Dr. Beth Thompson said.
Visitors won’t be able to see the newly-hatched ducklings and chicks in the popular Miracle of Birth Center.
But the biggest impact will be in the poultry barn — the hub of the 4-H poultry program.READ MORE: Next Weather: Slightly Warmer Start To The Work Week
“Normally, the 4-H experience at the State Fair or the county fair would focus kind of around the bird show itself and being able to exhibit that bird,” Brad Rugg, State Fair and Animal Science Program Director of Minnesota 4-H, said.
The barn will remain open, but without the usual flocks of feathers. Plans are in the works for interactive exhibits and educational displays.
“There’s all kinds of opportunities that our kids will be able to do that won’t focus on showing the bird this year,” Rugg said.
The agricultural education is the mission of the State Fair and 4-H. This year, bird flu is teaching everyone a difficult lesson.
“What’s most important, at this point, is that we protect the health of the birds that those 4-H members … and poultry farmers are raising,” Minnesota Turkey Growers Association’s Steve Olson said.
For the poultry program kids who want to compete, 4-H is working on plans to create other contests and events.
Even if the bird flu is under control by the end of August, the decision to ban birds for this year’s fair won’t be reversed.
Avian influenza won’t have an impact on the food from the popular Turkey-to-Go and turkey drumstick stands.
Health officials say avian influenza has no impact on food safety.MORE NEWS: Sen. Klobuchar Pushing To Help Modernize Minnesota National Guard's Fleet
Friday’s announcement will also affect county fairs.