Gov’t moves to combat bird flu

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Gov’t moves to combat bird flu

To combat the spread of avian influenza and help farmers cope with financial losses, the Ministry Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is looking to buy birds from the farmers, slaughter them and prepare them for shipment as food products.

“The plan is two-track, with the Agriculture Ministry paying for birds from farms with more than 100 birds,” said Kim Sang-gyung, head of the Livestock Management Division of the ministry. “For farms with less than 100 birds, local governments will pay for their birds, slaughter them and prepare them.”

The Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention says poultry can be consumed safely in times of avian influenza scares as long as they are thoroughly cooked.

Kim said the measure has been implemented before.

“The last time we did it was in March, when we were combating the avian influenza spread from the winter,” he said. “The policy has been agreed upon internally within the ministry. We will start with farms in the affected regions first.”

The first case of avian influenza reported in the recent outbreak was on Friday in Jeju.

The virus was confirmed to be the H5N8 strain, which has not infected humans before.

The island has since culled about 14,000 birds at 32 farms as of Tuesday. The common culling methods here include burying the animals alive and gassing them.

A total of about 186,100 birds at 82 farms throughout the country have been culled since Friday.

The same H5N8 strain was found in North Jeolla’s Gunsan, Busan and Gyeonggi’s Paju, and all are highly pathogenic.

Health authorities raised the avian influenza warning to its highest on Tuesday, and all movement of live poultry was stopped throughout the country on Wednesday.

A farm in Gunsan is suspected to have started the influenza spread this time, as it shipped out 3,600 of its birds throughout the country while more than 2,000 of its birds were dying out, from April 27 to May 29. The farmer did not report suspicious deaths to health authorities and is undergoing investigation.

“We think that the virus began its incubation period around May 10, and that the first deaths or sicknesses among birds were seen around May 16,” said Min Yeon-tae, head of the Livestock Policy Bureau of the Agriculture Ministry. “But we are awaiting further epidemiological results to confirm this.”

The Ministry of Public Safety and Security has sent out warning text messages to residents of affected regions since Sunday, requesting those who bought any live birds at a market in May to report themselves to local governments.

Farms in South Gyeongsang’s Yangsan and Ulsan have also tested positive for bird flu, and two farms in Iksan and an additional farm in Gunsan reported suspicious cases on Wednesday.

Some of these farms reported their cases after receiving the text messages, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

The most recent avian influenza outbreak here was the past winter, when more than 36 million birds were culled by March.

But some of the burial sites for the birds may be leaking, according to the Ministry of Environment.

The ministry said on Wednesday that 10 out of 235 areas where the birds and pigs, suspected to be infected with the foot-and-mouth disease, were buried from 2015 to this year were found to have possibly leaking leachate.

A type of ammonia nitrogen or chlorite ion was detected in the underground water within 5 meters (16 feet) of the 10 burial sites via the inspection mechanisms installed underground.

“We are investigating the 10 sites and if it is found that the leak is serious, we will be moving the burial sites elsewhere or burning the carcasses,” the ministry said.

The burial sites with suspected leachate leaks are in Gangwon’s Wonju and Gyeonggi’s Anseong for pig burials and South Jeolla’s Haenam, Naju and Muan County, South Chungcheong’s Cheonan and North Chungcheong’s Eumseong County for bird burials.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, KANG CHAN-SU [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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