Bird flu strain that hit Philippine province 'not harmful'

PHOTO: Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

The avian flu strain that hit poultry in Pampanga province is not harmful to humans, Malacañang said on Monday.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said it was up to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol to decide on the request of Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda to lift the quarantine in San Luis town, where the virus struck, because it was affecting duck raisers.

"Our first concern is the safety of our consumers and citizens," Abella said in a press briefing.

"So far, there is no indication that this strain of avian flu is harmful to humans, but we will continue to validate this and take all precautions needed," he added.

Abella said the government's long-term concern was to sustain and support "our local poultry industry as it weathers this first-time crisis."

"We will work closely with them to eliminate this problem soonest and to restore our country's chicken exports to their premium position in international markets," he said.

Malacañang earlier said it was monitoring the quality and price of poultry products following a Department of Agriculture (DA) report of an outbreak of avian flu.

"We believe the DA has acted fast on the issue and has managed to isolate and contain the virus," Abella said.

Prices fall

"Concerned government agencies are now looking at businesses that might take advantage of the situation and are monitoring the price of raw and processed chicken meat in the markets," he said.

"While we assure the public that there will be no price increase in chicken meat as there is only one area affected by the avian flu, we must see to it that uncontaminated meat is sold in the markets," he added.

Market prices for chicken have decreased by P30 (S$0.80)-P40 to P90 per kilo from P125-P150 per kilo.

Piñol on Friday said around 200,000 fowl in San Luis had been affected by the outbreak.

He said the chickens were not necessarily infected, only culled because they were within the 1-kilometer quarantine radius.

The virus was believed to have originated in San Luis' layer farms in April but was discovered only in August after government experts conducted tests, he said.

On Monday, the DA issued a new memorandum circular allowing the shipment of live domestic birds and products from Visayas and Mindanao to Luzon.

In a news conference, Piñol said the movement of all live domestic wild birds, including poultry meat, eggs, chicks and manure from Luzon to Visayas and Mindanao remained banned as a precaution.

"Inverse supply will be allowed. Visayas and Mindanao can supply Luzon provided this is outside the danger zone," he said.

As of Wednesday, 16,865 chickens had been culled, according to Arlene Vytiaco of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI).

More than 180,000 chickens are left to be culled, which will be paid for by the DA at P80 a piece. A total of P16 million will be allotted to compensate for the chickens.

Loan assistance

The DA will also allocate P50 million for a loan assistance programme for the poultry operators and owners while they are not allowed to continue production.

It told the public to eat poultry and poultry products "at your own risk," as the agency was still awaiting the result of the laboratory test of the flu virus sent to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory.

Although four laboratory tests done locally confirmed the H5 strain of the flu virus in San Luis, it would take two weeks to know whether the virus has an N7 component, which will make it transmissible to humans, Vytiaco said.

BAI disclosed that parallel testings were done by the regional animal diagnostic laboratory in Central Luzon, the animal diagnostic laboratory in BAI, the University of the Philippines Los Baños and San Miguel Corp.

Nonetheless, DA said there had been no report of any incident of animal-to-human transmissions since the outbreak.

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