January 28, 2004



Indonesia No Plans To Withdraw Chicken From Bird Flu Areas


Indonesia has no plans to withdraw meat sales of the 3.8 million chickens to be slaughtered in bird flu infected areas.


The announcements were likely to trigger further criticism that Indonesia is not acting strenuously enough to contain bird flu, following allegations that the government initially tried to cover up the country's outbreak.


The World Health Organization's Indonesia representative rebuked Indonesian authorities, saying selling sick chickens would only spread the disease because their saliva and feces - where the virus is found - could infect healthy birds.


"No one would like to see chicken from an infected farm being sold. It is the wrong thing to do for many reasons," said Georg Petersen, a spokesman for WHO in Indonesia. "If you want to stop the spread from farm to farm, you have to get rid of the chicken and not to sell it in a market."


The WHO has said there is no evidence yet that the disease can spread to humans through contaminated food, but it is doing further research on the matter. As a precaution, it has advised people to thoroughly cook poultry products, including eggs.


In one of the worst-hit Indonesian areas, East Java province, local officials announced this week they would start killing 3.8 million chickens on farms affected by the virus.


A provincial government spokesman, Siggit Hanggono, said meat from the chickens would be sold in the domestic market, claiming it is safe to eat.


Health officials also insist that no humans have so far been infected with the virus in Indonesia.


Indonesia has a different flu strain from Thailand and Vietnam, where at least eight people have died from the disease, said Hari Priyono, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture.


"We will not conduct mass culling for chickens," Priyono said. "We will pursue other ways, such as rigorous disinfecting and isolating farms and farmers."


Farmers already have slaughtered and burned thousands of birds on the resort island of Bali. Other farmers admitted they are selling off sick birds.


The disease has also been detected on other parts of Java island, Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo island.


Governments in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Laos and Taiwan have ordered mass chicken culls to combat the spread of the disease. The WHO says rapid culling of infected or exposed birds is one of the best ways to combat the disease.


Health workers took blood tests from hundreds of farmers in several districts in East Java to test them for bird flu, and more tests were planned across the country.


Accusations of a cover-up were leveled against the government after a team of agricultural experts said they alerted authorities in December to test results positively identifying the disease.


A virologist said a powerful business lobby had urged the government not to disclose the spread of bird flu to protect their business.


Although millions of chickens have died since August, Jakarta insisted that no bird flu had been found in Indonesia, attributing the deaths to another ailment not dangerous to humans.


Government officials only announced the outbreak Sunday. The news prompted Japan to suspend chicken meat imports from Indonesia.


Indonesia said Tuesday that it would issue a report "in the near future" on the impact of the outbreak on the country's economy.


The Thai government faces similar accusations of a cover-up.

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