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Bird flu notification a good start - more needed

Bird flu notification a good start - but more needed

Green MP Sue Kedgley today welcomed the decision to make the bird flu a notifiable disease but said this must be backed up by precautionary measures, such as banning 31,000 tonnes of imported poultry products from bird flu-affected countries - in particular high-risk, unsterilised chicken feathers, down and skin.

Ms Kedgley urged all government health, immigration and agriculture agencies to work in concert to ensure the disease does not reach New Zealand. It appeared that the Ministry of Health was taking precautionary measures, but MAF was not and still seemed in denial about the seriousness of the threat to New Zealand.

"The decision to make the bird flu a notifiable disease is commendable but must be backed up by stronger measures," said Ms Kedgley, the Green Health spokesperson.

"The bird flu can no longer be viewed as an Asian problem, and is now posing a significant global threat. The outbreak is certain to get worse so we must act now to ensure New Zealand does not fall victim.

"Health Minister Annette King's decision reflects an understanding of this, but other government departments have been slow to move.

"We must ensure our hospitals are equipped with enough isolation wards to back up the notifiable status the disease has now been given. I am also concerned by reports this morning of a substantial shortage of vaccines and a refusal to admit how many people could be inoculated against the bird flu.

"Meanwhile, MAF do not appear to have moved from their assertion that there is 'not even a minimal risk in New Zealand'. This is a false assessment of the risk the bird flu poses to our health and agriculture.

"I call on MAF to suspend the importation of poultry products from countries affected by the bird flu. 31,000 tonnes of processed chicken meat, feathers and skin - products which enter our food chain as animal feed - come from Asian countries hardest hit by the outbreak."

Ms Kedgley said that the responsibility falls on the agriculture industry to protect itself in the light of MAF's ambivalence.

"The poultry industry must review its practises of intensive factory farms and the routine force-feeding of antibiotics. The risk of this disease spreading like wildfire through our poultry flocks is too great for our poultry farmers to continue these unsustainable methods."

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