WHO: Ways of raising animals must change

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Jan 3, 2005
by WLJ
The way animals are raised for food needs to be urgently changed in an attempt to prevent a possible global flu pandemic that could kill millions of people, a senior World Health Organization official said Friday, Nov. 26.
Shigeru Omi, Western Pacific regional director of WHO, said bird flu could cause the next global pandemic, and efforts to control it must begin with farming methods.
“I believe we are closer now to a pandemic than at any time recent years," Omi said.
He said the current outbreak of bird flu in poultry is "historically unprecedented in terms of geographical spread and impact," the virus "appears to be not only very resilient, but also extremely versatile," and influenza pandemics historically appear every 20 to 30 years.
“On this basis, the next one is overdue,” he said.
Omi told a meeting of regional health ministers and senior officials that "it's very important to address the root cause of the disease -that is, the transmission from animals to humans."
“This means a thorough overhaul of animal husbandry practices, and the way animals are raised for food in the region. I believe that anything less than that will only result in further threats to public health," he added.
Chickens, ducks and other animals are often allowed to roam freely on small Southeast Asian farms, and often come into close contact with wild animals and with family members.
Some animal health experts have been promoting so-called "closed-system farming," in which poultry are raised in a sealed environment where they face minimal exposure to outside infections. But the system is likely to be prohibitively expensive for many poor farmers.
The H5N1 bird flu virus, which first spread among chickens, has killed 32 people this year in Thailand and Vietnam. Health officials fear it could combine with a human flu virus, creating a new form that could spread rapidly throughout the world.
WHO says a pandemic could cause an estimated 2 million to 7 million deaths and make billions of people ill.
Health ministers and senior officials from 10 Southeast Asian countries, along with China, Japan and South Korea, are among more than 100 people attending a meeting this week in Bangkok to develop strategies against bird flu and other infectious diseases. — WLJ