FAO cautions against restocking
not restock their flocks too quickly to avoid the disease flaring
up again, FAO warned today. But two months after the outbreak of
the epidemic some countries are already planning to declare
selected zones disease-free and to restock decimated flocks, writes
Aside from the health aspect, there are fears that quick restocking could further undermine public confidence in poultry products. European consumers have been jittery since the issue of bird flu began to dominate the news agenda a few months ago.
EU officials are keen to stress an EU-wide six-month ban on the import of all southeast Asian poultry is currently in place. Although the respective authorities concede that the import of poultry carcasses from affected regions carries a minimum risk of spreading the disease, the ban will remain in force until categorical proof that the disease has been eradicated.
"In the battle against the disease, there are definitely some improvements. But we fear that the virus may continue to circulate in the environment even without an outbreak or any clinical signs in animals," said Joseph Domenech, chief of the animal health service.
"Appropriate precautionary measures have to be put in place to be absolutely sure that infected zones are free from infection and will remain free," he added.
The FAO says that before restocking, countries must prove the absence of virus circulation by virus research, serological surveys and the use of non-vaccinated susceptible chickens (so-called sentinels) on infected sites to test if they become infected, monitor the movement of poultry and contaminated goods to avoid the reintroduction of the virus from affected areas and prevent contact between domestic and wild birds.
In addition, the FAO has called on the countries to apply intensive disease surveillance to ensure potential new infections are discovered immediately.
In total, Asia has around 40 per cent of the world's poultry population and accounts for 25 per cent of world trade in poultry. Thailand, whose poultry export business annually tops $1 billion, has been forced to cull over 25 million chickens.
The country is obviously desperate to restore its poultry industry. But not everyone is confident that Thai assurances that the country remains free from the virus can be trusted. The government denied the existence of the virus for weeks.
"Thailand's leaders characteristically express over-confidence and premature over-reassurance in the face of the unknown and unproven," Jody Lanard, a US-based risk communication consultant told FoodProductionDaily.com. "They have done the same thing regarding SARS preparation, and regarding terrorism."