Poultry is safe to eat

Even before Metro Manila residents could fully comprehend the quarantine guidelines ordered by the President due to the onslaught of Covid-19, authorities will have to grapple with another virus. This virus, which causes avian influenza, has again unleashed its wrath on a poultry farm in Jaen, Nueva Ecija. The Department of Agriculture (DA) confirmed on Monday, March 16, that bird flu struck a farm in Jaen and affected thousands of quail (See, “Avian flu here; DA clears out 12,000 quails in Nueva Ecija farm,” in the BusinessMirror, March 17, 2020).

The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) strain that struck the lone quail farm in Barangay Ulanin-Pitak is the H5N6, according to the DA, which is not known to be transmitted to humans. It is the same strain that struck the hundreds of quail and layer farms in Pampanga and Nueva Ecija in 2017. This is different from the one that struck China and infected humans and caused seven deaths, based on a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) dated March 6.

The government’s top  veterinarians said the H5N6 strain that affected the Jaen farm is not fatal and has a “very slim” chance of jumping to humans. Also, the outbreak involved only one farm that grows quail and the virus did not strike farms where broilers are raised. This means that consumers need not worry about the bird flu virus as local poultry and poultry products, such as chicken and egg, are still safe to eat.

During the avian influenza crisis in 2005, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the WHO said chicken and other poultry are safe to eat if cooked properly. The recommendation of FAO and WHO is to cook poultry–chicken, ducks, geese, turkeys, and guinea-fowl–at or above 70°Celsius so that no meat remains raw and red. This, they said, is a safe measure to kill the bird flu virus.

Despite this, consumers still avoided poultry meat after the government confirmed the outbreak of bird flu in Central Luzon. The decline in consumption caused the price of live broiler to plummet to P15 per kilogram, way below the production cost incurred by poultry growers. Many farmers lost millions of pesos after consumers avoided buying chicken and shifted to other protein sources (see “Fowl farmers’ fears persist 1 year after bird flu flare-up,” BusinessMirror, August 15, 2018).

The outbreak in Jaen has been effectively contained with the culling of some 12,000 quails. The government has protocols in place to ensure that this outbreak will not spread to other farms in the province. Despite this, we urge other poultry raisers to remain vigilant and immediately report to government veterinarians if there is an unusually high mortality of fowls in their farm.

Following established protocols, which has been updated since 2004 when it was crafted, will help prevent the spread of the virus and stop it from threatening farms in the region. Securing the country’s food supply is critical at this time when the Philippines is grappling with African swine fever, which has reduced pork production, and the onslaught of Covid-19. Government and poultry raisers must work together to ensure that this additional threat to food supply will be eliminated soon.


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