UN: BIRD FLU DISASTER FOR ASIAS POOR


2004.02.23
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Epidemic wrecks livelihood of small poultry farms

The United Nations has warned that a bird flu epidemic that has killed at least 22 people in Asia and prompted the slaughter of millions of chickens and ducks means disaster for the region's poverty-stricken farmers, RFA reports.

�Chicken production is made also by poor people, and therefore in the fight against hunger it�s a very important element,� Jacques Diouf, director- general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said at a regional conference on poverty eradication on Monday.

�The spread of the highly pathogenic avian influenza in several areas in Asia is a disaster for livestock production and a threat to human health,� Diouf told reporters at the conference in Bangkok.

Bird flu has forced governments across the region to order the culls of more than 80 million chickens and other fowl. The enforced measures could put an end to the meager livelihoods of thousands of small poultry farmers across the region. Diouf said the virus presented �a serious hazard to food security and food safety.�

Authorities in Shanghai meanwhile lifted quarantine on a farm in the city, and Japan may resume imports of cooked chicken from Thailand.

Vietnam in particular, where 15 people have died of bird flu, faces an acute economic shock from the disease. The World Bank estimated last week that Vietnamese poultry culls around the Lunar New Year celebrations�which usually involve the consumption of chicken�could cost the country 1.8 percentage points from its gross domestic product, or U.S.$690 million in losses.

The crisis has also squeezed demand for beef and pushed prices beyond the reach of poorer families, RFA�s Vietnamese service reports. Days after Lunar New Year, beef prices doubled in Ho Chi Minh City, and many restaurants specializing in popular beef dishes were turning customers away.

�We simply don�t have enough cattle to produce beef,� Vo Van Em, director of Vietnamese meat-processing giant Vissan, told reporters. He said the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development had approved the emergency import of 10,000 cows from Australia to meet demand, although the first shipment would not arrive until the end of March.

Meanwhile, the FAO�s Diouf called on Asian countries to turn the crisis into an opportunity to address issues such as the need for sustainable agricultural practices and healthful farming systems that would improve food security and safety.

Veterinarians from more than 20 countries are to gather in Bangkok from Thursday for an FAO-sponsored meeting to discuss the economic impact of the bird flu crisis, strategies to control the disease, and how to rebuild shattered poultry industries.

In China, the Ministry of Agriculture on Monday reported no new suspected cases of bird flu and no new confirmed cases to report for the preceding 24 hours. Chinese officials indicated with caution that the spread of the epidemic might now have been effectively controlled. #####

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