A proclamation signed in July by Gov. Pat McCrory banning the sale or show of poultry from Aug. 15 to Jan. 15, and requiring owners of backyard fowl to register as a farm, is an unnecessary encroachment of big government on citizens’ private lives, opponents say.
The emergency avian flu proclamation was issued by McCrory and state agriculture officials in a attempt to prevent waterfowl migrating south this winter from spreading bird flu through North Carolina’s poultry flocks.
“The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is requiring all poultry owners, regardless of the number of birds, to register for an NCFarmID number,” said a July 22 statement from State Veterinarian Doug Meckes.
“This will facilitate the department in alerting poultry owners about an outbreak, especially owners in close proximity to a positive farm,” Meckes’ statement said. “North Carolina is trying to prepare for what has already affected more than 20 states and cost the lives of nearly 50 million birds since last December.”
Sandra Robles of Kernersville, who’s raising a flock of five chickens, said the emergency proclamation is burdensome, ill-advised, and will create unintended consequences. “This is America. This is a way of life. And for some reason they’re trying to wipe it out,” said Robles.
A retired antique-store owner married to a retired state trooper, Robles said they are trying to make ends meet through a sustainable lifestyle. “The most distressing thing to me is they’ve taken a noncriminal activity, and they’re on the verge of criminalizing it” with potential hefty fines and charges, said Robles, standing next to the hen house she built behind her home, where she also has a garden from which she cans her own food.
“They’re creating this black market for chickens,” said Robles, who bought her chickens at a local feed supply store. “Are they going to make that store now start keeping a list, and taking names of everybody they sell a chicken to?”
Robles contends “there’s no science behind the fact that backyard flocks are the source of the spread of avian flu. The science says it is the migration pattern of birds.”
Indeed, the Agriculture Department cites as a main worry the possibility of infected migratory waterfowl introducing the disease into the state through North Carolina’s migratory flyway from the north.
“In planning our response for highly pathogenic avian influenza, one problem we’ve come across is that we can’t protect birds that we don’t know exist,” Meckes’ statement said. Government response has cost taxpayers more than a half-billion dollars, and there have been “numerous job losses that hurt farm families and their communities.”
Robles said McCrory, Meckes, and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler are overreacting.
McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said the governor’s office has not been involved in the emergency measures and referred questions to the Agriculture Department.
However, on July 2 McCrory signed a memorandum from Meckes, routed through Troxler’s office, in which the state veterinarian sought McCrory’s “approval of this imminent threat determination so that I might carry out the authority granted to me in developing and implementing any and all emergency measures and procedures that are necessary to prevent and control this disease.”
Meckes raised the specter of “possible public health consequences,” but conceded there are no known cases of humans contracting avian flu in the U.S. or elsewhere.
Robles is concerned about the vast powers the state assumes under an emergency declaration, and that it was done among three officials with no public notice or hearings. She is not alone.
Nicole Revels with the Transparency & Accountability Project NC has raised concerns that the governor and Troxler may have skirted the Administrative Procedures Act by not holding a public process.
Some members on the Facebook page No to NC Chicken Registration, which has nearly 1,500 likes, have urged owners of small poultry flocks to refuse registering as a farm, raised property rights issues, and questioned why the government wants to control a personal food supply.
Robles said because of shifting statements from government officials, there continues to be confusion over whether the new rules are voluntary or mandatory.
“So they say it’s not mandatory, but do we take what they say, or do we take what the written law is?” she said, citing by statute number several provisions of emergency powers law.
For example, she said, any person, farm, or corporation violating the governor’s proclamation, or rule or regulation made by the agriculture commissioner, would be guilty of a Class II misdemeanor.
There could be fines of $10,000 per animal for owners who do not comply with the farm ID registration, or fail to report the death of an animal subject to the emergency act.
“That’s pretty extreme,” Robles said.
It would be unlawful to conceal any animals that become subject to quarantine or to fail to report a sick animal for which the quarantine is in effect, she said. An administrative penalty up to $10,000 per violation could be levied. The state also would have the authority to seek civil penalties of up to $5,000 for violating any provisions of that part of the law.
Flocks could be destroyed “for no specific reason or proof,” Robles said, and owners could be subject to costs incurred by the state. “That opens up private citizens to financial liens, financial hardship, or debt collection (a)t a time of economic downturn,” she said.
“Do I have a right to have my animal tested? Do I have a right to do an autopsy? I don’t know,” Robles said.
Dan E. Way (@danway_carolina) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.