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Experts say monitoring free-range ducks will help prevent bird flu
05 | 12 | 2007
Better surveillance of free-range ducks by the authorities will help contain bird flu, experts told a seminar that opened yesterday in HCM City.

In his opening remark at the two-day seminar, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), Bui Ba Bong, said Viet Nam had the largest population of ducks in Southeast Asia, and 80 per cent of the ducks ranged freely on paddy fields and between provinces.

Figures from the MARD’s Livestock Production Department show the country has 230 million poultry and 68 million waterfowl in 2007. Waterfowl farms are centred in the Red River and Mekong Delta regions.

"Ducks are allowed to range freely in the fields because they can feed on the rice grains spilled after harvest and other stuff," Bong explained.

However, since 2003 experts have identified them as a risk because ducks carry the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus and free-range ducks spread it.

Bong told the conference, however, that free-range duck farming could not be banned because it was linked with the livelihood of thousands of farmers.

Thus, the only way to contain the risk is to improve management of the breeding and hatching of these birds by vaccinating them, issuing records of their vaccination to their owners, and improving surveillance over these farms.

The most important factor, Bong said, was "co-operation from farmers".

"Educating farmers is very important and veterinary staff at the village level should support local authorities," he said.

FAO’s considerations

The representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Viet Nam, Jeff Gilbert, said ducks had become vital in the fight against bird flu since it was confirmed that they could be infected with H5N1 bird flu without showing any symptoms of the disease.

"They were considered such an important part of the cycle of infection that it led to a radical decision by the Government of Viet Nam - to ban breeding of ducks and other waterfowl.

This was only partially effective since many farmers had continued to raise ducks, as even with public health fears there had been demand for duck meat and eggs, he said.

This demand increased further through 2006 when many people believed the H5N1 threat had passed, and the ‘unofficial’ duck flocks grew, he said.

Bong said the December 2006 bird flu outbreaks had mostly been among these illegal, unvaccinated flocks.

The ban on hatching waterfowl was lifted in February 2007.

Gilbert said, however, Viet Nam needed medium and long term strategies for duck farming. "From public health point of view, ducks provide valuable and tasty animal protein," he said, adding there were no other significant diseases related to ducks.

Participants at the seminar, which was held by the FAO and MARD, also heard delegates from Cambodia, China, Laos, and Indonesia narrating their experiences in rearing waterfowl.

Source: vietnamnews.vnagency.com.vn
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