Sunday, 4 March 2012

News Brief: new bird flu cases discovered and covered up

Almost 60,000 poultry in Changhua and Tainan were slaughtered late last week following an outbreak of bird flu, the Taipei Times reports today (full article here).

According to the Council of Agriculture (農委會; COA), it first appeared at a farm in Changhua in late December and is Taiwan’s first outbreak of the H5N2 avian influenza strain. 

If it turns out that the virus is highly pathogenic, Taiwan could be listed as an infected region and its exports of poultry products banned.

Poultry meat is one of the country’s top poultry product exports, with a value of between NT$360 million and NT$370 million per year, said Hsu Kuei-sen (許桂森), director of the council’s husbandry division, the Times reports.

What the Times did not say, but was covered by many Chinese-language papers, including its sister paper the Liberty Times, was that there was evidence of high pathogenicity as early as December, and the COA not only covered it up but also failed to report this to the international agency responsible.

Documentary director Li Hui-ren (李惠仁) is said to be behind the discovery. Alerted by the rise in egg prices late last year he became suspicious, and tracked down large numbers of dead birds. Three he sent to the COA and the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (防檢局), and one he had tested. According to  Li, it was at this time in December that the COA should have alerted the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

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