... .. opinion


The rapid spread of lethal bird flu in Asia has sparked concerns about the outbreak's long-term impact on the poultry industry.

To prevent avian influenza from spreading further, experts in China and other infected regions are culling poultry and vaccinating thousands of fowl each day.

Some observers have opined these measures could prove to be a blessing in disguise because they will lead to improved living conditions for farmed foul. That's laudable, but perhaps the more important result is that farmers are being forced to realize the importance of maintaining sanitary conditions for their poultry stock.

Although there is so far no evidence to suggest the poor environment of poultry farms is a primary cause of the disease, there can be no doubt unsanitary farms and poorly outfitted live fowl markets increase the risk of spreading the virus.

Preventing domestic flocks from becoming infected is seen as the first line of defence.

To that aim, the Ministry of Agriculture has urged the country's chicken farmers to take measures to prevent contact between their stock and wild fowl, which scientists believe is the natural reservoir of bird flu viruses. They are also asked not to let their flocks to share a water source that might become contaminated by droppings from infected wild-bird carriers.

The ministry has also proposed substantial upgrading of disinfection and sanitation facilities on the farms.

On Tuesday, China's environmental watchdog demanded the country's breeding industry provide clean drinking water for poultry, as well as disinfecting the air in poultry coops and taking steps to eliminate fecal and sewage contamination of poultry.

Until now, it has been common practice for many poultry farmers to either squeeze their flocks into tiny quarters or let them roam free, putting commercial concerns ahead of any sanitary considerations.

In zoos where birds are kept for show, people are also improving the habitation of various species.

At the Beijing Zoo, the largest of its kind in China, workers have moved turkeys, which are believed to be particularly susceptible to epidemics, to separate quarters and provided more cages in order to alleviate crowding.

Although all these moves have been prompted by bird flu, people should endeavour to integrate the precautionary measures into their long-term behaviour patterns.

Just as public health facilities were improved after the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) last year, the current menace of avian influenza will force people to take a harder look at the living conditions of domestic flocks.

This will benefit humans and birds alike.

(China Daily 02/05/2004 page6)


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