Factory fowl no answer to bird
flu By Aaron Glantz and Ngoc
HANOI - Tuan bought his first 50
chicks less than a month ago, hoping to supplement
a meager family income from selling coal and the
sewing his wife does.
"My neighbors think
I'm crazy what with all this bird flu going
around," he said chuckling as he stood by his new
coop. "They ask me if I want to breathe my last."
For now, he said, the risks are worth it.
"It costs just 4,500 dong [three US cents] to buy
a chick," he said. "Free-range chickens fetch
It is these types of
backyard operations that government veterinarians
and officials are concerned about, though they
concede that most illness has sprung up at factory
farms rather than among free-range birds.
The country wants to move production to
larger, factory farms, veterinarian Doc Quoc Binh
said. He and his wife lead the
government-sponsored vaccination program in Bac
Ninh, the North Vietnamese province where Tuan
lives. Launched in August, the
vaccination program has
already administered some 20 million shots, but
other measures, such as more efficient poultry
management, are also seen as necessary.
Factory farming "will make it easier for
us to monitor the chickens' health from the time
the chickens are hatched until the time they come
out," the veterinarian said. "This is better than
each farmer having just a few chickens."
On Monday, Deputy Agriculture Minister Bui
Ba Bong indicated to Vietnam's larger neighbors
meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
forum in Brisbane, Australia that his country
needed US$50 million to fight bird flu.
Bong told reporters that the money was
needed for technical support, especially in the
improvement of diagnostic capabilities. At least
91 people have been infected in Vietnam since the
outbreak began, and 40 of those have died, the
latest a 14-year-old girl who died on October 23
and a 26-year-old-man on October 26 in the central
Quang Binh province.
A spokesman from the
Ministry of Health said no samples were taken from
either victim though he did not say whether this
was because facilities were lacking.
Meanwhile, US strategy to contain a
possible global avian flu pandemic may involve
Vietnam as the ideal location for the manufacture
and trial of a human vaccine since the country has
recorded the most human deaths so far.
Michael Leavitt, the US Health and Human
Services secretary who surveyed Southeast Asia
countries in October, offered Vietnamese
scientists a plan to organize vaccine trials and
support worth $18 million.
interest stems from fears the bird flu virus could
mutate into a strain capable of being transmitted
among human beings rather than from bird to man -
as has been happening so far.
has caused Vietnam to kill tens of millions of
birds, and this week the government announced it
is perusing new regulations on the raising,
slaughtering and selling of fowl and blood pudding
in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.
But across the country, small farmers
continue to raise poultry in backyards and
alleyways, a practice that is difficult to stop.
"It's against Vietnamese custom," the
veterinarian said. "Right now, farmers may start
out to raise a dozen chickens just to feed the
family, and when he becomes more prosperous he
might raise more chickens to sell."
is exactly what Tuan's neighbor, Thanh, did. She
started out with a dozen chickens and now she
raises fish and pigs as well. In the last season
she sold 1,000 chickens - mostly to a single
family for a large wedding.
key to stopping bird flu isn't more large-scale
farms, but care for the animals," Thanh said. When
she first started raising fowl seven years ago,
she said, her chickens sometimes fell ill. "They
get weak and thin. One time, a hundred of them got
sick and I decided to feed them to my fish."
Over time, she has learned that chicken
flu often comes in the fall or winter, and so she
no longer raises them then. Thanh has also learned
how to keep chickens healthy. When she first buys
the chicks, she gives them vitamins to boost their
immune system. She feeds them regularly, but
doesn't let them eat too much and takes care to
cook their feed.
The factory farms do not
monitor how much the chickens eat, she said. "They
get very fat and unhealthy and they feed them raw
food. Free-range chickens are healthier because
they get to run around. I pay attention to them
and know when they get sick. In the factory,
nobody pays attention and it's hard to tell when
one is sick."
So far most of the bird flu
outbreaks have been in factory farms near Ho Chi
Minh City, where large-scale agribusiness has
While Doc Quoc Binh recognizes
that most of the illness popped up in factory
farms, he sees an inevitable shift in the way
farmers raise livestock, spurring the need to
better train the industrial farmers.
not safe to have so many chickens in one place, if
the knowledge (level) is not high," he said. "As
the country industrializes, farmers are going to
need more expertise. And the government can help
with that and also with other helpful things like
providing medicine as well as disinfectant."
Until such efforts are made, however, Doc
Quoc Binh will continue to drive through the
villages with a bullhorn advising small
proprietors that they can come out and get their