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on June 30, 2009

Worrying H5N1 signals from Pakistan

There are at least 60 farms in the affected areas where full cooperation is required if disease spread is to be halted.

Following more outbreaks of H5N1 in Pakistan there are worrying signals from affected farmers concerning compensation and motivation to cooperate with the authorities.

Outbreaks in themselves are not unexpected since Pakistan is one of those countries which are now mostly outbreak free but not H5N1 free. That said the five latest outbreaks around Islamabad are on commercial poultry farms rather than in the ‘backyard’ flocks affected earlier this year.

Pakistan authorities have culled around 20,000 birds but observers say there are at least 60 farms in the affected areas where full cooperation is required if  disease spread is to be halted.

But full cooperation was looking unlikely following reports that some farmers were unwilling to cull their birds following rumours of government compensation suffering long delays. Some reports went further to suggest farmers fear infected birds will somehow make it to market and infect consumers, thus indicating a deep-seated fear of corruption.

Pakistan poultry farmers have cause for concern because during the last big outbreak full compensation was not forthcoming. Total farmer losses were around $160 million USD, but industry watchers in Pakistan claim many farmers were able to recoup some losses through creation of artificial shortfalls in production which increased prices. They fear the same thing will happen again this time round.

All this could not come at a worse time for Pakistan as it introduces a new policy for poultry aimed at increasing annual growth from 12 to 15% using modern production and processing technology. Poultry sector currently claims a 1.12% share of Pakistan’s GDP and employs 1.5 million people. Government claims the current annual growth rate of 12% is down to clear forward thinking, including reduced tariffs on feed materials and veterinary chemicals, elimination of import duty on machinery and equipment and improved credit facilities for farmers wishing to invest.

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