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Taiwan poultry farmers complain on bird flu reports

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Japan's decision to halt poultry imports from Taiwan following a news report about a suspected bird flu outbreak on the island has sparked widespread discontent among Taiwan's poultry farmers.

Poultry farmers, particularly those in southern Taiwan, complained that their livelihood will be impacted and lashed out at what they called irresponsible media reports.

The problem was sparked Wednesday when the Liberty Times reported that a large number of chickens at a poultry farm in Tainan County were confirmed by a government laboratory to have died from the H5N2 bird flu virus last month.

The report alleged that the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture (COA) sought to cover up the matter so as not to mar the launch of direct air, shipping and postal links between Taiwan and mainland China on Monday.

The COA denied the report. Huang Kuo-ching, deputy director of the COA's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, said Wednesday that there is no H5N2 avian flu outbreak in Taiwan, except for an incident in late October at a poultry farm in Luchu township, Kaohsiung County.

As the fatality rate among chickens at the farm was below 3%, which is far lower than the average mortality rate in cases of the low-pathogenic H5N2 virus, the COA was hesitant to categorize it as an epidemic, Huang explained, adding that the council did not try to cover up any bird flu outbreak.

All the remaining 18,000 chickens at the farm were culled in an effort to prevent a spread, Huang said, adding that the situation was under control and that nothing unusual has been detected so far.

Despite the COA's explanation, Japan announced later Wednesday that it was immediately halting poultry meat imports from Taiwan on a temporary basis to prevent the H5N2 bird flu virus from entering its territory.

by Natalie Berkhout

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