Caribbean poultry farmers brace for deadly duo of diseases
(Jamaica Observer)
Stabroek News
October 30, 2003

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Caribbean poultry farmers are bracing for a potentially devastating attack on their US$305-million industry by a deadly combination of the Avian Influenza (AI) and Newcastle diseases which have wiped out commercial flocks in large parts of the United States, Italy and Chile.

Clearly alarmed by the possibility of the poultry sector taking a direct hit from the deadly duo of diseases, officials in the Jamaican Agriculture Ministry have urged immediate contingencies be put in place to stave off an onslaught.

“Lobby your government, lobby your ministry of agriculture, lobby your veterinary department,” was the urgent note sounded by Jamaica’s Cedric Lazarus. He was speaking at last Thursday’s Regional Caribbean Poultry Association (CPA) board meeting at McCook’s Pen in St Catherine, home of the Jamaica Broilers.

Lazarus, a veterinary surgeon in the Ministry of Agriculture, represented the Caribbean at a meeting that just ended in Peru to discuss the ravaging of the poultry industry by the diseases.

The diseases have reportedly been savaging commercial flocks in California, Virginia and, to a lesser extent, in Nevada and Arizona in the US, and have also wreaked havoc in Italy and Chile.

The outbreak of AI wiped out the poultry sector in one of Chile’s 14 states in 2000, and cost the government US$20 million to eradicate it and compensate the farmers. In California, AI was first found in “backyard chickens” in October 2002. The disease, allegedly imported into the state through fighting cocks, spread to commercial laying flocks. But birds in Europe were also affected, Italy being the hardest hit.

The AI virus was also detected in turkeys and chickens in the US state of Virginia last June, and less severe outbreaks have also been experienced in Nevada and Arizona.

There have also been outbreaks of Newcastle disease in California, where some 734,138 birds had been depopulated as of late January. The state lost 12 million commercial poultry flocks valued at US$56 million, in the last outbreak of Newcastle disease in 1971.

Lazarus warned that Newcastle disease was moving around the world faster than any other disease.

“The last time I checked, probably about 20 countries in the world this year are facing this disease,” he said.

He said that the 300 persons at the Peru meeting included representatives from the United States, South America and Central America and all were fearful that the bird illnesses might spread to their countries.

Avian Influenza and Newcastle are highly infectious in poultry and were the only two diseases in animals that could “scientifically affect trade”, Lazarus told the CPA board members at McCook’s Pen.

“If Chile got it, what is to stop its spread to Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica? Nothing: because the spread is really uncontrollable. It visits wild birds and they don’t need visas to go wherever (they want),” Lazarus quoted the Peru meeting as agreeing.

“You have to work on what you’re going to do to put the systems in place to deal with AI, which some people feel might come to the Caribbean,” he urged.

He said that an extension service for poultry farmers would have to be established to deal with the threat, noting that there was currently no Ministry of Agriculture extension service that advises poultry farmers in Jamaica.

“In the veterinary division of the ministry, we have not had a department that deals with poultry farmers,” Lazarus added. “Our extension systems don’t have workers that are giving advice to poultry farmers and so I think we have to change that mindset, that paradigm, because, as the Minister says, the small backyard farmers are critical to the existence of the poultry services.”

He said that the government had to be lobbied “to take certain steps” and that there had to be trust between the government and industry “starting from now”.

Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke, who spoke at the meeting but left before Lazarus’ presentation, said the poultry industry was strategic to the Caribbean.

“The industry produces 110 million birds and 35 million table eggs valued at US$380 million,” he said, adding that there were 10,000 small poultry farmers with “backyard farms”.

Avian influenza H5N1, the cause of infections and several deaths in people in Hong Kong, was first linked to infection in live poultry in 1997.

High concentrations of the Newcastle virus are found in birds’ discharges and can be spread easily through footwear and clothing as well as by other means. The virus can also be spread by vaccination and beak trimming crews, manure haulers, and poultry farm employees. It can also survive for several weeks in a warm humid environment on birds’ feathers, manure and other materials.