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March 21, 2012


Taiwan's agriculture council admits bird flu handling delay



The subordinate agencies of Taiwan's Council of Agriculture (COA) have delayed their action on two bird flu outbreaks in the country but denied accusations of covering up the cases, Deputy Minister Hu Sing-hwa said Monday (Mar 19).


Hu said the COA looked into five recent avian influenza outbreaks from 2008-2012 and found irregularities in the handling of two cases, adding that council will investigate administrative liability.


The five cases include an outbreak in Sinshih, Tainan in March 2009, the H5N2 outbreak in Fangyuan, Changhua County in late December last year that was first reported by independent documentary producer Li Hui-ren, and the outbreak in Liujia, Tainan City in February.


Tai Yu-yen, convener of the COA's investigative committee, said it was an "obvious negligence" that both the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ) and the Animal Health Research Institute (AHRI) did not request the owner of the Sinshih farm to report follow-up conditions in accordance with the standard procedure.


Tai said that although AHRI tests on March 27, 2009 detected strain of H5N2 virus in the Sinshih case and on April 5 that same year found the intravenous pathogenicity index (IVPI) in chicken at 1.86, the BAPHIQ, as an epidemic prevention body, failed to continue handling the case.


An IVPI of 1.2 or higher is one of the two standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to determine highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). The other is at least 75% mortality.


Given the BAPHIQ's precaution measures at the Fangyuan farm since Li reported the case, then bureau director-general Hsu Tien-lai expressed opinions in an experts meeting February 1, allegedly interfering in the proceeding of the meeting, she added.


The BAPHIQ then sent two letters on February 7 and 20 to the AHRI, protesting that the institute had not fully recorded the bureau's opinions in the meeting minutes, she said.


The investigative committee also asked to investigate the two agencies' liability, as the two failed to provide some files for committee members.


Meanwhile, Tai said the BAPHIQ and the AHRI have had different views on how to determine HPAI since October 2008 when bird flu broke out in Lujhu, Kaohsiung.


For instance, Tai said, the AHRI believes the virus should be considered highly pathogenic when the IVPI exceeds 1.2 in accordance with the OIE.


However, the BAPHIQ insisted to include clinical conditions at the affected chicken farms when determining if the virus outbreak was highly pathogenic, she added.

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