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Taiwan's poultry products safe, says COA

2005-11-05 / Taiwan News, Staff Reporter / By Jenny W. Hsu

Chairman of the Council of Agriculture Lee Ching-lung has given the assurance that, as Taiwan is one of the few remaining avian flu free countries in Asia, the island's poultry and eggs are safe for consumption.
As a former director of the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, Lee also expressed confidence in Taiwan's biosecurity measures against the H5N1 virus.

"Taiwan employs some of the strictest inspection criteria for poultry in the world," said Lee in an interview with the Taiwan News. "Our standards are in the same ranking as countries such as Australia, the U.S. and Japan."

Under standard procedure, during an outbreak, all the birds within one kilometer of the contaminated area will be culled, said Lee. Furthermore, all birds within a three-kilometer radius will be vaccinated, he added.

"The key is to contain transmission to the minimum," Lee explained.

He noted that in face of the avian flu threat, Taiwan has increased its efforts at detecting sickness in birds on local poultry farms as well in seasonal migratory birds.

In the past, scientists and biologists conducted approximately 1,000 random samplings on migratory bird's droppings annually. However, to boost preventative measures against the avian-flu virus, Lee has tripled the sampling number to 3,000 migratory birds in ten different wetlands around the island per year.

"Back in 2004, there was a batch of chickens in Taiwan that contracted the H5N2 virus," he recalled. "We immediately culled all the infected chickens," Lee said. "Since then, there has not been a single incidence of bird flu on the island."

While other countries are battling with H5N1, Taiwan has yet to report a have a case of H5N2, Lee noted.

He explained that H5N1 and H5N2 virus strands are both subtypes of the avian influenza virus. The difference is that H5N1 is a highly pathogenic while H5N2 is considered less potent.

It is hard to tell when the H5N2 will mutate to H5N1, but animals infected with the H5N1 virus display visible symptoms, which include loss of appetite, wheezing and difficulty breathing, glazed eyes, bloating in the throat area, and lack of energy, Lee said.

On the question of a poultry vaccine against the flu, Lee revealed that the government is in the process of purchasing 70 million doses of poultry vaccines to be used if bird-to-bird transmissions become prevalent. But he cautioned that there is a still chance the virus will mutate even with the vaccines.

"That is a risk faced by all the countries in the world," Lee said. "No one knows exactly what the virus is going to be like until it actually hits the country, since vaccines are derived from the virus itself."

Influenza viruses are destroyed by heat, therefore, to be on the safe side, all poultry products, including eggs, should be thoroughly cooked, the chairman advised. He explained that once food is cooked at a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius for one minute or at 60 degrees Celsius for three minutes, it is completely safe for consumption.

"Remember, Taiwan is not an affected area. People should not worry about eating poultry or eggs," Lee reiterated.

He disclosed that as Taiwan is still a bird-flu free zone to date, Singapore and Japan have been importing large quantities of eggs and poultry products from Taiwan. Yet, despite the efforts of the Department of Health and the COA to convince the public that local poultry products are safe, sales have decreased by 20 percent, he said.

"To help the poultry farm owners to ride out this difficult period, the COA will purchase large amounts of their products and freeze them for future use," said Lee. "Why waste the food? These are perfectly healthy birds."

Addressing the accusations by British authorities that Taiwanese birds infected a parrot that died in quarantine outside of London, Lee insisted that the birds from Taiwan were examined and declared to be disease free before they left the island.

"The British authorities have not been able to provide any clear evidence to support their allegations," Lee said. "But we have inspected the place of origin (of the birds) and all the test results have been negative for the H5N1 virus."

"I cannot guarantee that Taiwan will always be free of bird flu," said Lee, "But I can say our country has been and is making ample preparations to protect ourselves from the virus."