Not since the `Tastes Great' - `Less Filling' beer wars of the 1970's has there been a debate quite as contentious as whether wild birds are behind the spread of bird flu.
Bird enthusiasts and naturalists point to the poorly regulated and controlled poultry trade as being the main source of infection, while those in the poultry industry tend to blame migratory birds.
Not having a bird in this fight, I can see how both can contribute to the spread of the virus.
After an intensive review, officials in Hong Kong have deduced (as opposed to having proved) that droppings from infected wild birds likely introduced the virus into their poultry flocks.
Hong Kong, it should be remembered, routinely finds a couple of dozen dead or dying H5N1 infected birds within their territory each year.
Most are assumed to have migrated from mainland China.
This report from the Hong Kong Standard.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
A recent bird flu outbreak was likely caused by droppings from migrating wild birds rather than from smuggled ones, experts believe.
A government-appointed committee has completed its initial investigation into the deaths of 200 chickens in a Yuen Long farm early last month, which led to a cull of 100,000 birds and a 21-day ban on the sale of fresh fowl. The report will be submitted to the Food and Health Bureau this week.
According to a source, the report studied several possible factors behind the contamination but concluded there was no evidence linking it to smuggling activities. It was more likely caused by contaminated feces dropped by migrating birds inside the farm or nearby area, the report said. It may have stuck onto a worker's garment and was carried into the farm, it said. Veterinarians and experts of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department who visited the farm found room for improvement in some of the biosecurity measures already in place. They made 10 suggestions to prevent another outbreak.
Another source said biosecurity and vaccines are the two most important things farms need to control in order to prevent bird flu outbreaks.
The source said it was questionable whether all chickens on the farm were vaccinated, but that trying to identify the real cause of the infection was challenging since much of the evidence had been lost during the cull.
The owner, Wong Yee-chuen, said the farm is still being sanitized and cannot resume operations until the government is satisfied with the hygiene conditions.
The AFCD suggested that a metal cover be built for the chicken houses to avoid droppings of migrating birds. It also suggested workers change gloves when handling different lots of chickens to prevent cross contamination.
Wong said he welcomed all suggestions made by the committee as long as they were viable and reasonable. Workers, from now on, will wear thin plastics gloves on top of cotton ones.
He said the outbreak and the aftermath has cost him HK$2 million to HK$3 million.