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Bird flu hits small farms, paves way to new disease

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LONDON, Mar 24 (Reuters) Bird flu could spell the end for small poultry farmers and open the door to more diseases at intensive farms, campaigners said.

Conservation, farming and agriculture campaigners said yesterday governments were responding poorly to the outbreak of the deadly H5N1 virus that has killed over 100 people so far because they had yet to accept that the outbreak started at intensive farms.

It was then spread by the trade of poultry, poultry products and poultry manure more so than by wild birds and chickens in backyard farms, which have become the focus for many governments' campaigns to fight the virus' advance.

''I don't think you would have seen this spread if it wasn't for the industrial type of farming that has been developed over decades and exported itself and its products,'' said Devlin Kuyek, a researcher at GRAIN, an international group campaigning for sustainable management and agricultural biodiversity.

''To make matters worse, governments ... are pursuing measures to force poultry indoors and further industrialise the poultry sector. In practice this means the end of the small-scale poultry farming that provides food and livelihoods to hundreds of millions of families across the world.'' Campaigners said the current outbreak of bird flu was sparked at factory farms in China and Southeast Asia and then sent round the world mostly in products and waste.

Bird flu has now been detected in the Middle East, Africa and Europe, prompting the killing of millions of birds.

''Globally, the most important route of spread remains unrestricted poultry movements. Recent outbreaks in India, Nigeria and Egypt originated within the poultry industry,'' Birdlife International, a global partnership of conservation organisations, said in a report.

''Here, as in most other H5N1 outbreaks, there is strong circumstantial evidence that movements of poultry and poultry products are responsible.'' TRADE FUELS SPREAD Some countries have banned imports of poultry and products, but campaigners say trade in hatching eggs and manure among other potentially contaminated goods was continuing.

''Some producers are dumping chicken in China for 30 cents/lb,'' Kuyek said.

The Commercial Farmers Group said that long supply chains left countries vulnerable to all animal diseases.

''We must reinforce the national protection against the import of potentially dangerous products,'' it said in a report.

And rather than bigger farms suffering, the smaller farms are feeling the brunt of the fight against the virus.

In Egypt, the government has initiated mass culls to end its outbreak and says it hopes to end small-scale chicken breeding on the roofs of homes in the cities and rural areas.

Campaigners said such a response could open the doors to further disease outbreaks, arguing that poultry on smaller farms are more resistant to disease than their battery friends.

''The strategy to contain H5N1 by destroying the genetically diverse backyard flocks and developing even more intensive poultry operations will, perversely, increase the possibility -- likelihood some feel -- of a human-transmissible version of lethal bird flu,'' Kuyek said.

''Governments should be ... working out what practical steps we can introduce to help small-scale farms.'' REUTERS CH KP0828

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