December 11, 2008


Hong Kong authorities say bird flu outbreak could be due to smuggled eggs



Smuggled fertilised eggs from China containing infected chicken embryos could be the origin of the latest bird flu outbreak at a Hong Kong poultry farm, trade representatives said.


"There is a very big connection between the outbreak and smuggled fertilized eggs," Tsui Ming-tuen, chairman of Hong Kong Poultry Wholesalers Association, said following a meeting with his members.


Smuggling has grown since Hong Kong banned the import of one-day-old chickens from China earlier this year to prevent cross-border infection, according to the association.


The eggs, imported ostensibly for sale as food, contain embryos less than a week from hatching that could have contracted the bird flu virus from their mothers, the South China Morning Post reported Thursday (December 10).


Tsui urged the government to tighten its monitoring of egg imports.


"It has become a very serious problem. There has always been ample evidence to prove the smuggling cases, if the government wants to catch the culprits," Tsui said.


However, Wong Yee-chuen, owner of the farm where the outbreak occurred, denied having smuggled any fertilized eggs from China and asked the association for evidence to substantiate its allegation.


"The allegation is ridiculous," he told Cable TV.


"There is no chance for a chicken to survive after hatching from infected embryos. If their allegation is true, how come some of the infected chickens in my farm were as old as 40 to 50 days?" he said.


The government ordered the slaughter of more than 90,000 chickens after it confirmed Tuesday that some birds had died from the H5 virus on Wong's farm near the border with China.


Further tests were underway to determine if it was the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus, which has killed about 250 people worldwide since late 2003.

Hong Kong was the scene of the world's first reported major H5N1 bird flu outbreak among humans in 1997, when six people died. Since the second outbreak in 2003 Hong Kong has required farmers to vaccinate their chickens.


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