Wednesday, June 21, 2006


The US Department Of Agriculture is facing increasing criticism for refusing to introduce a system of mandatory testing by poultry producers.

The volunteer system, where guidelines on how to conduct testing of poultry for the avian influenza are left up to poultry producers and state governments to enforce, has already been dismissed by the World Health Organisation, and other international agencies, as being inherently flawed and possibly extremely dangerous.

In short, a massive poultry farm in the US may find an unusual number of dead birds and decide that avian influenza is not responsible for what may not turn out to be a relatively hrmless anomaly of deaths.

Colonel Sanders, apparently, has well and truly spoken.

From the New York Times :

The Agriculture Department lacks a comprehensive plan for detecting avian flu, in poultry and wild birds, its inspector general's office said yesterday.

In an audit, the office found that the department relied too heavily on voluntary testing by the poultry industry and reports from state agriculture departments.

The audit began before Congress passed President Bush's plan for dealing with a pandemic flu outbreak, which gave the department an additional $91 million to fight avian flu....

....the agency had no plans to make the voluntary testing now conducted by the poultry industry mandatory.

In January, the National Chicken Council, an industry trade group, said that its members, which produce more than 90 percent of the country's chickens, would test every flock for influenza two weeks before slaughter.

Yesterday, Stephen Pretanik, the council's science director, said the industry was already sharing those test results with the Agriculture Department.

Poultry experts said in January that if the lethal flu strain arrived in American domestic poultry, complicated tests would not be needed to spot it. Unlike other bird flus, the A(H5N1) strain, which has killed millions of chickens and 130 people since 2003, can wipe out a flock of thousands in 24 hours.

That the federal government won't impose mandatory, compulsory periodic testing of poultry farms for avian influenza makes a mockery of the rest of the Bush administration's pandemic flu plans.

Human-to-human transmissions of the H5N1 virus are still believed to be rare, with the majority of the 180-plus human bird flu deaths coming from contact with infected poultry.

The most effective way to stop the virus from infecting humans, and then possibly mutating into a form that can pass easily between humans, is to ensure that there is no presence of the virus on any poultry farms in the US.

The standards demanded by the WHO of countries like India are being ignored in the US.

And probably for good reason. If a massive US poultry farm reported an unusual amount of poultry deaths, and the presence of the H5N1 was found, even if it was not spreading or killing any more birds, the World Health Organisation would demand that every single bird on the farm be culled, and restrictive quarantine zones be enforced for miles in diameter.

This could lead to losses in the millions of dollars, and create chaos in the area in which the quarantine zone has been implemented.

No comments: