Chickens in Urban Rockville

Some Councilmembers of the City Of Rockville want to revise Rockville’s Animal Control Ordinance.  The revisions would allow Rockville residents to raise up to five chickens (but no roosters) in their backyard.

Current Councilmember, Julie Palakovich Carr, is the architect of the New Animal Control Ordinance.  The problem with the proposed legislature is the lack of understanding of epidemiology, genetics and biology.  Having livestock, specifically birds, in the backyards of daycare facilities, schools and residential units  in urban City of Rockville is a recipe for a potential disaster.  Here is why.

The City of Rockville is a densely populated city and is the third largest incorporated city in Maryland. With the metro stopping near the newly completed Town Center to Washington, DC. Rockville is urbanized city with many high rise buildings (part of the smart growth initiative), townhomes and single family homes with small yards.  As the Rockville government website states, “Rockville has grown very rapidly from a leisurely, agriculturally-oriented county seat to a cosmopolitan city of many neighborhoods.  It is home to a well-educated population and serves as an employment center for national biomedical corporations, the federal government and county government.”

Rockville is considering to allow birds to be raised in this environment.  At the same time, the United States is experiencing the biggest outbreak of the Avian Influenza (bird flu) that has affected 21 states. According to the USDA, as of today, 49 million of birds are dead nationwide.  This outbreak will negatively affect the farmers and consumers.

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A bird flu, like human flu, is caused by the Influenza virus. Influenza viruses always change (mutate).  There are two types of changes (mutations) in flu viruses: gradual (antigenic drift) and abrupt (antigenic shift).  Big pharmaceutical companies like Medimmune develop and produce human flu vaccines for the general population based on their predicted gradual mutations.  That is why sometimes flu vaccines don’t work well if the change in flu virus doesn’t match the prediction.

The bird flu also could change abruptly and jump from one host to another – from bird to human.  When flu viruses change abruptly, it creates a brand new strain of the Influenza virus and it is a nightmare for the scientific and medical community.  The new strain of Influenza virus can lead to a pandemic because there are no vaccines to protect the population from it.  When a new Influenza virus emerge, it takes time for research and development of a new vaccine.

Moreover, flu viruses are highly contagious and spread quickly through direct contact and indirect contact.  Some people can stay asymptomatic for a few days after the virus enters the body and in meantime they can potentially expose the public to flu on the Metro, buses, schools etc.

Recently, we had an outbreak when bird flu jumped from birds to human. The CDC website states that:  “two bird flu viruses have caused the most human infections: highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 and low pathogenic H7N9 viruses (Note: the terms “highly pathogenic” and “low pathogenic” refer to the severity of disease that these viruses cause in birds).  These two viruses have caused severe illness and death in humans. ”

Given all undeniable scientific evidence of the dangers of bird flu, having chickens in the backyards of a densely populated city is a bad idea.  While it’s understandable people would love to live in the city of Rockville to experience an urban life style and at the same time would want to explore a more rural experience.  However, the risk of having chickens in the backyards of schools, daycare facilities and tiny backyards of residential areas of densely populated city of Rockville outweighs the benefits.  Thus, the Mayor of the City of Rockville, B. Newton; Councilmember Feinberg; Councilmember Moore and the rising star, Candidate for City Council, Brigitta Mullican, are correct in opposing to the New Animal Control Ordinance Amendment.
June 15, 2015, correction: The article states that Councilmember Moore opposes the new Animal Control Ordinance Amendment. That is incorrect. Councilmember Moore supports the Amendment and would allow chickens in Rockville

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