Saturday, July 29, 2006

Avian Influenza and Smuggled Poultry

With the outbreak of H5N1 in the domestic and wild bird populations, much of the media attention has focused on the disease in wild birds. We have been given nightmare scenarios of wild birds migrating and spreading H5N1 from one continent to the next. This picture gets spread around even as reports of actual outbreaks As this article shows, the illegal poultry trade has foiled attempts by government officials to contain the virus.

The smugglers first appeared on the distant ridgeline and then, like ants, streamed down a dirt track carved from the lush, sculpted mountains that separate Vietnam from China. As the figures grew closer, their stooped posture became visible, backs heaving under bamboo cages crammed with live chickens....

These traffickers haul more than 1,000 contraband chickens a day into Lang Son, one of six Vietnamese provinces along the Chinese border, flouting a chicken import ban. In doing so, heath experts say, they have also repeatedly smuggled the highly lethal bird flu virus from its source in southern China into Vietnam, where the disease has taken a devastating toll on farm birds and killed at least 42 people since 2003.
Stopping smugglers that move by foot and motorbike is very difficult since they present a low profile and can disappear easily. But illegal poultry smuggling is not a problem for Asian countries alone.
This business includes large-scale, commercial shipments of uninspected meat, often from China, to destinations as diverse as Europe, Africa and the United States. Last month, for instance, U.S. inspectors discovered 2,000 pounds of frozen chicken, duck and geese smuggled from China in a Detroit-area warehouse that supplies Chinese restaurants and Asian groceries in southeastern Michigan.

Last year, Taiwanese officials reported their first case of the deadly bird flu virus among more than 1,000 birds that were being smuggled by ship from China. A pair of eagles confiscated two years ago at Brussels International Airport from the hand luggage of a Thai passenger were found to be carrying the disease.
If H5N1 appears in this country, it will probably arrive in the cargo of a ship docking in Seattle or Los Angeles or Newark, not in ducks flying over the Bering Sea.