Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, January 17
Close on the heels of the decision to cull 1.66 lakh birds in the poultry belt of Panchkula’s Barwala after two epicentres for bird flu were identified, the owners have begun vaccination of the birds in their respective farms with, so far, unapproved vaccines. Four more samples are suspected to be positive and their report is expected shortly. Their confirmation is likely to sound the death knell for 20 lakh birds in Asia’s largest poultry belt.
The poultry farm owners are procuring the “smuggled” vaccine from their own sources or buying local versions of the vaccine though the government has not approved this vaccine used elsewhere in Asia.
“We need to save our birds and this vaccine has successfully contained the outbreak since there are fewer dead birds in our flock. We are buying the smuggled vaccine for Rs 5 per dose and the local one for Rs 2.50. Each bird requires two doses in a gap of 21 days. Though this is additional expenditure, we are going ahead because losing a bird costs a lot more,” explains Darshan Singla, president of the Haryana Poultry Farmers’ Association.
He maintains that they have, in representations to the government, sought a formal approval for manufacturing the vaccine locally and adds that they have been informally conveyed that four more samples have been found to carry the bird flu (H5N8) virus strain. “The confirmation will come from Bhopal now,” Singla added.
Sources in the Animal Husbandry Department said that they too were aware that four more samples tested by the Jalandhar lab carry the strain and that these have been forwarded to the Bhopal lab for confirmation.
With their hands still full with the culling of 1.66 lakh birds, the sheer magnitude of the number of birds, which will require culling once this confirmation comes in, is overwhelming. “It takes five days and 30 teams of five members each to complete the entire process of culling under 10,000 birds, disinfecting the place, clearing the bird droppings and burning the entire stock of feed. If we follow the government guidelines which state that all birds in farms falling in the radius of 1km of the epicentre have to be culled, the entire Barwala belt will turn into a graveyard once the confirmation on the four samples comes in. Also, there is no space to bury 20 lakh birds,” a senior officer explained.
Sources said that ACS (Animal Husbandry) Raja Shekhar Vundru has forwarded the representations received from the Haryana Poultry Farmers’ Association on the revision of this containment strategy to the Centre.
“Culling should not be undertaken merely on the basis of four or five birds testing positive but should be on the confirmed infected flock. Also, culling of birds in the 1km radius is unjustified. The officials of the Jalandhar lab landed and picked up samples, chose not to coordinate with the farmers or the district authorities, picked up dead birds and went away. The next we know is that two poultry farms were identified as epicentres. When a dead bird is taken, the official puts it in a box, seals it, gets a signature of the owner and gives a receipt. None of this was followed,” says Singla.
Fifty-five more samples from 15 locations have been collected of which four are suspected to be positive.