US Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman has announced the launch of a national awareness campaign to educate non-commercial bird owners about avian health and poultry diseases.

The Biosecurity for the Birds campaign is designed to inform people who raise their own poultry or who own exotic birds about the symptoms associated with diseases such as avian influenza and exotic Newcastle disease. The campaign includes an expanded emergency poultry surveillance and outreach program focusing on non-commercial or backyard poultry in states considered at risk for poultry diseases.

"We must be vigilant in educating producers on how to better protect their birds so that future outbreaks of serious poultry diseases such as exotic Newcastle disease are eliminated," said Veneman. "This program will help greatly in our animal disease prevention, detection and eradication efforts."

This campaign, which asks owners to report sick birds, came about as a result of the outbreak of exotic Newcastle disease in California and other western states in 2002 and 2003. The outbreak cost the states and federal government more than $180m to eradicate.