China sets bird flu fund, U.S. fears for poultry trade


  • World
  • Wednesday, 02 Nov 2005

By Chris Buckley

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has earmarked $248 million to fight bird flu, state radio said on Wednesday, as U.S. and Chinese officials discussed U.S. chicken exports should bird flu reach the United States. 

Wen presided over a special cabinet meeting on Tuesday when it was decided to set aside 2 billion yuan ($248 million) from this year's fiscal budget to prevent the spread of bird flu, state radio and Xinhua news agency said. 

A chicken walks in a suburban district in Shanghai November 2, 2005. China has suspended poultry and poultry product imports from 14 countries where bird flu cases were reported, a government notice said on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Aly Song)

Chuck Lambert, U.S. deputy undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programmes at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said he discussed surveillance and inspection measures to ensure that U.S. poultry exports to China can survive an outbreak of bird flu. 

He said that completely shutting down poultry exports after an outbreak may undermine the fight against the disease. 

"If countries over-react and are overly punitive in their reaction when this disease is reported, this reduces the incentive of other countries to report," Lambert told reporters. 

U.S. poultry exports to China were worth about $500 million a year, he said. 

"The United States and China are two of the largest producers of poultry and two of the largest traders of poultry in the world," he said. 

China itself said on Tuesday it had barred imports of birds and poultry products from six new affected countries, bringing the total to 30. 

In recent weeks, China has revealed three outbreaks of the H5N1 virus that killed 3,800 chickens, ducks and geese. 

But China has reported no human bird flu infections since the latest H5N1 outbreak first surfaced in Asia in late 2003. Since then, 62 people have died in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia and the virus has spread to Europe. 

Talks between the two countries, which also involved the World Organisation for Animal Health, also covered technical cooperation to ensure that China promptly and accurately reported outbreaks of bird flu, Lambert said. 

About $20 million of the bird flu package announced by President George W. Bush on Tuesday in Washington would go towards improving surveillance of birds in developing countries, he added. 

Bush asked Congress for $7.1 billion in emergency funding to prepare the United States for a feared avian-influenza pandemic by building stockpiles of drugs and vaccines and encouraging vaccine makers to modernise. 

Farmers in China, as in many parts of Asia, live alongside their poultry and other livestock, increasing the chances of the disease spreading to humans, experts say. 

It also raises the chance of the virus mutating into a form that could spread easily among people, triggering a pandemic. 

(Additional reporting by Guo Shiping) 

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