Thailand to Change Farming Ways to End Bird Flu
BANGKOK Hard-hit Thailand plans a campaign to change poultry farming methods as it seeks to stamp out the deadly bird flu virus before migrating wildfowl return during the northern winter, a senior minister said on Thursday.
"If we have to spend hundreds of millions of baht or billions of baht, we will," said Deputy Prime Minister Chaturon Chaisang, who is leading the drive to eradicate the H5N1 virus that has killed 20 Vietnamese and 10 Thais. "The priorities now are to protect humans from the disease and minimize the chances of chickens being infected," he said two days after Thailand announced its first probable case of human transmission.
The planned changes will be wrenching in a country where more than 60 percent of the people live on the land and the vast majority keep chickens, ducks, and other fowl.
Chickens in Thailand, as in most Asian villages, often wander freely, even in and out of houses, and defecate wherever they want, spreading any disease they might have.
Huge flocks of ducks move over wide areas in a largely nomadic existence in search of food.
That will have to be curtailed, Chaturon said.
"Given that people have died of bird flu, we can no longer allow free range poultry farming to continue at the current large scale," he said. The ducks would have to be kept on farms.
The campaign, due to start next week, would include incentives and punishments to persuade people to raise poultry in hygenic conditions and reduce the risk of disease.
"We will sponsor farmers to raise their chickens away from their homes, give them nets, cages, and so on," Chaturon said.
The Axe Hovers
His announcement followed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's order on Wednesday that the H5N1 virus be wiped out in Thailand by the end of October, when migrating wild fowl believed to have brought the disease return during the northern winter.
All cabinet ministers responsible for tackling bird flu would be fired if they failed, Thaksin told an emergency meeting of provincial governors and other officials in the front line of the battle against a disease, which has virtually wiped out a US$1 billionayear chicken export industry..
Tens of millions of fowl have been slaughtered in the effort to eradicate the disease since it swept across much of Asia early this year. For a few months, it looked like it was being defeated.
But the disease sprang up again in Thailand and Vietnam in July. China, now on alert again as the bird migrations season approaches, reported a single case, and the virus struck Malaysia for the first time.
International health agencies have been urging Asian nations to abandon traditional farming methods and overhaul hygiene at old-style farms since the H5N1 virus arrived.
But Hans Wagner, a senior animal production official of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Bangkok, said on Wednesday it would take time to implement change.
"If you look at how the farms are constructed, the houses of the owner and workers are close to the pens, there are people and motorbikes coming and going, the cages go to market and they come back without being disinfected," he said.
Chaturon said the Thai government shared the FAO's concern and it hoped to persuade people to change their farming methods with incentives. State agencies were still working on a system of incentives and penalties for not implementing change, and the measures would be announced on Monday, he said.
Chaturon acknowledged the scheme could be controversial and backfire on a government that must call a general election early next year. But he swore the government would not be deterred.
"We have to educate the general public to understand that they need to sacrifice something to help prevent the spread of the disease from chicken to humans," he said. "If we have to lose popularity because of this, we will do it anyway."