Chinese contraband raises risk of flu in Vietnam

VIETNAM - The smugglers first appeared on the distant ridgeline and then, like ants, streamed down a dirt track carved from the lush mountains that separate Vietnam from China. As the figures grew closer, their stooped posture became visible, backs heaving under bamboo cages crammed with live chickens.

On the road below, two young men identified by local officials as lookouts buzzed past on red dirt bikes, slowing down to check out a reporter and his government escorts who had stopped to watch. One man produced a two-way radio and started speaking urgently. Although his words were inaudible to the visitors, within moments the figures on the hillside melted into the brush.

These traffickers haul more than 1,000 contraband chickens a day into Lang Son, one of six Vietnamese provinces along the Chinese border, flouting a chicken import ban. In doing so, health experts say, they have also repeatedly smuggled the highly lethal bird flu virus from its source in southern China into Vietnam, where the disease has taken a devastating toll on farm birds and killed at least 42 people since 2003.

As bird flu continues to spread across the Eastern Hemisphere, international health experts warn that illegal trade in poultry, poultry products and other birds is often the primary cause.

"Both between and within countries, commerce is an incredibly important factor," said Juan Lubroth, chief of infectious animal disease for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. "We try to press with governments that it has to be controlled or managed better. But like trafficking in humans, weapons and drugs, with poultry it's not any easier."

Source: Contra Costa Times
calendar icon 5 August 2006
clock icon 1 minute read
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