Despite stepped up bio-security at farms and markets, as well as an awareness-raising campaign on TV, radio and in the newspapers, bird flu continues to spread in Bangladesh.
Forty-seven of the country’s 64 districts are now affected. In the past 10 days the number of affected sub-districts and farms has increased from 107 to 124 and 196 to 220 respectively.
Bird flu, or avian influenza, has caused an estimated US$746 million in losses to the country’s poultry sector. Each month the sector is losing $120 million, said Moshiur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh chapter of the World Poultry Science Association (WPSA) at a media conference earlier this month.
Monthly consumption of poultry meat has declined from 26,600 metric tonnes (mt) in October 2007 to 12,000 mt in March 2008 - a fall of nearly 55 percent in four months, said Muhammad Abdus Saleque, general secretary of WPSA’s Bangladesh chapter.
About 50 percent of poultry farms have been closed and 2.5 million people out of the six million involved in the industry have been made jobless. In fact, many people have removed chicken and eggs from their menus altogether.
Rahman said the government had been enforcing strict bio-security measures at poultry farms, but this alone would not solve the present crisis.
Rahman and Saleque stressed the need for immediate implementation of short- and long- term strategic plans focusing on bio-security, surveillance, rescheduling of bank loans for small farmers and further involvement of the government to offset losses.
According to the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, there are about 150,000 poultry farms in Bangladesh which produce 320,000 mt of meat and over five million eggs annually. Investment in the sector is estimated at close to $2 billion, while 89 percent of people living in rural areas rear chickens at home.
According to the government, over one million birds have been culled at 426 farms - 384 commercial and 42 backyard farms - so far. The H5N1 virus has been confirmed in 201 poultry farms -159 commercial and 42 backyard farms.
“Price hikes in poultry feed, lower prices of chicken and eggs, and dwindling demand has shaken the foundations of the poultry industry that had been growing at an astounding 20 percent [per year] since 1994,” said Prof Habibur Rahman of Bangladesh Agricultural University.
He told the media there was nothing to panic about if people ate chicken meat cooked properly at 70 degrees centigrade. “Hard-boiled or deep fried eggs are also 100 percent safe. Only the unprotected poultry handlers and workers of an infected farm could be at risk, no one else,” he said.