Bird flu threat


Poultry farmers have been warned of a real threat of bird flu entering the region from the United States, placing their livelihoods and Caribbean economies in danger.

In what has been described as the worst outbreak in US history, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 infections have resulted in the depopulation of approximately 50 million flu-stricken chickens, turkeys, and other poultry, mostly in Midwestern states.

Barbados’ representative at the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) Ena Harvey told a workshop on biosecurity for local egg and poultry producers at the weekend that more than 90 per cent of hatching eggs and day-old chicks required in the region for the production of table eggs and broiler meat are sourced from the USA.

She said that given the heavy dependence on these products, the Caribbean was at risk of attracting the virus.

Ena Harvey, IICA Representative in Barbados.

Ena Harvey, IICA Representative in Barbados.

“With our heavy dependence on the import of hatching eggs and day-old chicks from the USA, and given our high levels of consumption of poultry meat products – we eat a lot of chicken in Barbados and the Caribbean – our very food security and the livelihoods of the producers, our tourism industry, across Barbados and the region are under threat,” Harvey warned.

The IICA officials also pointed to the number of migratory birds across our region, and the Caribbean’s geographical position next to the US, as other reasons to worry, telling the egg and poultry producers that “we sit in the armpit of the Americas and therefore we are very, very vulnerable”.

Harvey emphasized the need for producers to follow regulations and protocols across the Caribbean in order to protect countries from the spread of viruses such as HPAI, and said that IICA had been working with regional technical groups such as the Caribbean Animal Health Network (CaribVet) to strengthen agricultural health and food safety systems in the region.

Veterinary Public Health Specialist at CaribVET Dr Patricia Bedford told workshop participants that the organization had been preparing the region for 10 years to tackle diseases that threaten the agriculture sector, and since 2008, more than 200 professionals from 26 countries had been trained by CaribVET and its partners.

“We’ve also developed surveillance guidelines and protocols for Avian Influenza, H1N1… and classical swine fever for the regional veterinary services.

“However, all of the interaction and impact to date has been at the governmental level. And as part of our tenth anniversary mandate we’re now ready to develop stronger ties with our stakeholders, namely our farmers, our processors, our distributors and other input providers to the livestock sector,” she revealed.

Dr Bedford noted that with bird flu affecting the US and Belize, “the need to assist the region on the ground level, in protecting these multi-million dollar industries and hundreds of thousands
of jobs, was realized and a number of plans are presently
being implemented”.

The workshop was the first of 11 to be held in Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries and targets small and medium-sized poultry producers in the region. 

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