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Caribbean on high alert against bird flu

birdsBRIDGETOWN--Veterinary officers and stakeholders in the poultry sector in the Caribbean are on high alert and stepping up their preparedness to protect the industry as the deadly H5N1 virus – commonly referred to as bird flu – wreaks havoc on farms in North America, the region’s main market for hatching eggs and chicks. Over the past six months, almost 50 million birds have either died or been destroyed in the US, costing the industry billions of dollars.

With more than 90 per cent of the hatching eggs and day-old chicks required in the Caribbean for the production of table eggs and broiler meat being sourced from the US, senior veterinary officer in Barbados’ Ministry of Agriculture and chair of the Caribbean Animal Health Network CaribVET Working Group, Dr. Mark Trotman, said the region was working hard to ensure the poultry industry was protected.

“The virus is highly contagious and extremely deadly to chickens and turkeys. However, to date, there is no evidence that it affects people. Every effort is being made to make sure that farmers and producers are well-equipped to protect their flocks, should the virus enter the Caribbean region,” he said.

CaribVET and the Caribbean Poultry Association (CPA) recently convened a three-day Avian Influenza Regional Preparedness Meeting in Barbados, to review and further develop a regional strategic plan to safeguard food security and the livelihoods of communities across the region.

Chief veterinary officers from the Caribbean also met with their counterparts at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture to examine the measures that were being taken to safeguard the supply of hatching eggs and day-old chicks to the region.

“CaribVET and the CPA have been engaging in increasingly close, multi-disciplinary collaboration with its partners and stakeholders from the region to develop a comprehensive preparedness and response strategy. This collaborative approach has been endorsed by Caricom Council for Trade and Economic Development,” chief executive officer of the CPA Dr. Desmond Ali said.

“National emergency preparedness plans had already been developed by the veterinary services in all of the countries and territories of the region with strong collaboration from the poultry industry, as well as international and regional organisations. These plans are now being reviewed and updated in light of this new outbreak.”

The outcomes of the Barbados meeting included: a concise checklist of measures that farmers and producers can use for the biosecurity of their flocks; guidelines for collaboration and strengthening veterinary laboratories for early diagnosis of the virus; sharing information through the Caribbean Veterinary Information System; and the update of national and regional simulation exercises.

Co-funded by the 10th European Development Fund Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Measures Project, the meeting gathered representatives from the public and private sectors, regional and international organisations involved with agriculture, research institutes, researchers and other technical experts.

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