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Michigan fairs will follow strict animal health rules
Michigan Correspondent

LANSING, Mich. — To help ensure a safe environment for spectators, Michigan’s fairs must follow the state’s strict animal health requirements.

Under Michigan Department of Agriculture’s watchful eye, all Michigan fairs are required to publish the state’s animal health requirements in their premium book for both in-state and out-of-state exhibits. In addition, fair organizers are responsible to make sure those guidelines are followed during their event.

From bovine tuberculosis to Equine Infectious Anemia, the 15 pages of guidelines declare in detail all disease issues that would exclude an animal from being at the fair. The requirements apply to all animals on the fairgrounds including rodeo stock, ponies used for amusement purposes and others.

“They’re in place to keep us safe,” Steve Recker, president of the Isabella County Youth and Farm Fair in Mount Pleasant, said of the MDA’s rules.

“Scrapies was a big issue last year,” he said. “This year it’s the bird flu. We’re really concerned about that. We just don’t know where it’s going to go.”

Recker said to ensure that all of the fair’s exhibitors are following the rules, they have a veterinarian on-site who checks in the animals.

“We deal with problems when they come up,” he said.

Gratiot County Fair for Youth Coordinator Deidre Iciek said she believes the rules are an important tool for fair managers.

“You don’t want sick animals on the fairgrounds, coming into contact with the public,” she said.

Ionia Free Fair Manager Doug Clark agreed.

“We’re trying to ensure the safety of the public,” he said.

While E. coli is not specifically defined in the MDA’s rules, Clark and the other fair managers said it’s an issue they are concerned with.

“We had a dozen hand-washing facilities last year,” Clark said, “and we’re adding six or eight more this year.”

Recker said his fair has a baby animals building, and hand wash stations and signs directing people to use them are located throughout the area.

“Kids are going to touch the animals. That’s all there is to it,” he said. “The only thing you can do is try to educate them.”

Michigan Assoc. of Fairs and Exhibitions President Bill Johnson, who also is the manager of the St. Joseph County Grange Fair, said that keeping up with the MDA’s rules is important.

“We try to keep up with the requirements. They’re always changing,” he said. “Most of the fairs have to change with the times, to be aware of what the restrictions are.”

Johnson said that like most fair officials throughout the state, he is “keeping a real close eye on the (potential for) Avian Influenza.”

“I really believe that this is an issue that will influence all fair in the state of Michigan and throughout the United States,” he said.

As a precautionary measure, Johnson said his fair has eliminated its open class poultry show this year.

“We’ll still have the 4-H poultry,” he said.

“We find the breeders are more local. They’re not bringing in the exotic birds that an open class or professional may bring … something that might come from Europe. The 4-H is mostly young people bringing in birds from local farms so there’s less of a chance (for the disease).”

As for making exhibitors aware of the state’s animal health requirements, Johnson said, “Sadly enough the issues of the (health) requirements are more for a liability issue anymore. Ninety percent of the reason we print the rules in the (premium) book is to eliminate liability for the fair.”

“If someone breaks the rules and you haven’t printed them, you open the door a little more for liability,” he said.

“We have about 3,000 animals on the grounds during fair week. That’s a liability issue,” he said.

“The MDA is out there for our own good,” Johnson said. “It’s a legitimate need. We do everything we can to make (our fairs) safe.”

This farm news was published in the June 14, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.