ASIAN governments must provide financial incentives and shut down as many backyard poultry farms as possible to halt the spread of bird flu, a leading U.S. poultry industry official said.
Margaret Say, Southeast Asian director for the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, said while some governments were working hard to fight the virus, others were "becoming a bit slack".
"We cannot control migratory birds but we can surely work hard to close down as many backyard farms as possible," Say told the news agency. "And we can do that only if backyard farmers are given an alternative source of living-some incentive to close down."
Bird flu has killed more than 60 people in Asia and infected at least 123 since late 2003. In almost every case, the virus appears to have been transmitted to humans through contact with birds. Indonesia confirmed last Saturday its fifth bird flu death.
China has yet to report any human cases of bird flu from the latest outbreaks but has slaughtered 6.0 million birds in a northeastern region hit by the country's fourth outbreak in a month.
In countries such as Indonesia, China, Thailand and Vietnam, a lot of poultry is raised on small farms, which don't have adequate bio-security measures in place, making them a breeding ground for the virus.
The farms, for instance, don't have proper enclosures, making it easy for the virus to be carried by migratory birds.
"Some countries have done better in keeping a lid on backyard farms than others. The problem is that we are seeing a re-emergence of the virus as people in certain regions are becoming a bit slack once they don't see new cases for a couple of months," Say said.
She said poultry consumption in Asia has not dropped by much in Asia, despite growing fears, as governments have been successful in educating people that well-cooked chicken was safe to eat.
"We are not seeing a downtrend in poultry consumption so far. For example, sales were buoyant in Indonesia during Ramadan," Say added. "To prevent the threat from mounting, there is a need for richer nations to help out the ones which don't have the proper bio-security measures in place."
Grain markets have been on tenterhooks that the spread of the virus would sharply cut poultry demand, which in turn would slash the need for feed grains such as corn and soybeans. But Say said the situation is unlikely to reduce grain imports by bird flu-hit countries in Asia in the near term.
"If you look at all the big feed producers in the organised sector they are all functioning normally. They are the ones who use imported grains. It's not the backyard farms which use imported grain. We might see a knee-jerk reaction in the market."
Say said Asian governments are unlikely to stockpile grains on fears that shipments could be disrupted during a full blown flu epidemic.
"Any kind of stockpiling would only send a negative signal to the market and to their people that there is something severely wrong. We also don't see that happening either, at least in the near future," she said.
Reuters from Singapore