"Every chance is there and the poultry industry is at risk"

Nov 15 - 28, 2004





Since the influx of the migratory birds in the warm waters of this part of the world, especially in the province of Sindh is about to begin, the poultry industry is once again going to confront with the virus of bird flu in next three months.

An early warning system about the virus has been introduced by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to monitor human epidemics, as a safeguard measures.

The Federal Minister for Health has appreciated the initiative taken by the NIH to assist the poultry sector. He expressed his desire that the institute should lead the way in research and technical expertise. The minister further said the condition of most of the poultry farms was far from satisfactory and needs improvement.

"Poultry farms must adopt new technologies to keep pace with modern advancements," he said. He urged the sector and the authorities concerned to ensure proper vaccination of the poultry birds. He said the system had to be adopted by every poultry farm in view of its benefits and cost-effectiveness. "Establishing the system at a poultry farm would cost just under Rs 100". The minister also emphasized the need to improve the quality of poultry feed, which must be free of contamination and must not contain steroids or unnatural ingredients.

While making special mention of researchers and scientists, he said he wanted to recognize the technical excellence of the scientists and experts who guided both the ministries of Health and Agriculture in providing the public factually correct and technically sound information during the recent avian flu crisis. He urged scientists to work hard for the benefit of the common man.



Here in Karachi the authorities said that they were preparing for a repeat of the bird flu that led to millions of poultry being culled last year, as the pre-winter migratory season gets underway. "It is difficult to forestall the flu outbreak as migrating birds during the upcoming winter pose high risk to the Pakistani birds," said Raja Rafaqat Hussain, the commissioner for the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. He said, "Every chance is there and the poultry industry is at risk."

Syed Ali Hasnain, a Karachi-based researcher working with the World Wildlife Fund, said about 5.5 million birds migrate from the colder regions of Central Asia to Pakistan every year to avoid a harsh winter. They generally stay in southern Pakistan and adjacent parts of India until January.

"Although experts believe the birds coming from Central Asia do not currently have any strains of the avian flu, the fear is they will pick it up from species that already have the disease and spread it."

Mohammad Afzal, an animal sciences doctor with the state-run Pakistan Agriculture Research Council, said H-7 and H-9 strains of avian influenza were already found in Pakistan and could easily be spread by the migrating birds. "The H-7 and H-9 is circulating currently in Mansehra and Abbotabad," Afzal said. "The chances of it spreading will increase more during the migratory season," he said. The H-7 and H-9 strains are less damaging variations of the H-5N1 strain that has wreaked havoc in Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand and Vietnam, killing more than 20 people.

Pakistan's poultry industry has suffered a loss of Rs5.4 billion due to avian influenza that spread in November-December 2003 in and around Karachi's poultry farms. This was revealed by the State Bank of Pakistan in its second quarterly report for 2003-04 on the basis of claim by the Pakistan Poultry Association (PPA). This loss when adjusted in the value-addition shows a decline of 1.3 per cent in the growth of livestock sub-sector. The situation dampened the chances of achieving the target growth of the livestock sub-sector, while other contributors to the livestock sub-sector exceed the targeted growth by 90 per cent. The sale price of almost all poultry products in the wholesale market during January-February 2004 remained far less than the cost of production for many poultry farmers. This has led to concerns of a shortage of poultry products in future, raising the prospects of a sharp spike in poultry product prices when the concerns over the bird flu subside, the SBP report further said.

Avian influenza has badly affected the poultry industry in several Asian countries, including South Korean, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Cambodia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand and China, the report added. Nonetheless, even reports on the health risks faced by other countries have severely hit Pakistan's poultry industry.

The virus, the report said, could not affect Punjab (accounting for 73 per cent of total poultry business) and the Frontier province, but even these were impacted by the countrywide fall in demand for chicken products. At one stage, the retail prices reached a ten-year low. In Pakistan there are around 300 million chicken birds and more than 20,000 farms with Rs60-70 billion investment in the poultry sector, the report said.