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Cablegate: Avian Flu: Burma Tightens Defenses to Repel New

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 000137

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV, EB, AND OES
BANGKOK FOR FAS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR TBIO SOCI PGOV BM
SUBJECT: AVIAN FLU: BURMA TIGHTENS DEFENSES TO REPEL NEW
THAI INVADER

1. (SBU) Summary: There appears to be no avian influenza yet
in Burma and the government has taken the initiative to keep
it that way. An interagency committee has begun a broad
prevention program, which includes cutting off imports of
baby chicks from Thailand. Though we are relatively
confident in the GOB's assessment thus far, it will be very
difficult to know when and if the "bird flu" makes the jump
into Burma. End summary.

Battening Down the Hatcheries

2. (SBU) In response to outbreaks of "bird flu" elsewhere in
Asia, the Burmese government first took steps on January 20
to address the prospects of the disease moving into Burma's
chicken population. The joint Ministry of Health/Ministry of
Livestock and Fisheries "Work Committee for Prevention and
Treatment of Avian Influenza" determined that there was no
flu in Burma (a notion later seconded informally to the Chief
of Mission by the local WHO rep) but that preventive measures
should be initiated immediately to educate the people and
strengthen controls on imported chickens.

3. (SBU) This latter measure became more urgent after January
23, when neighboring Thailand, the source of millions of
Burma's imported chicks, finally admitted its flocks were
harboring several cases of the disease. On January 24, the
Committee announced a moratorium on the import of any poultry
products without a health certificate verified by the
Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries. The Committee also
announced it would order local SPDC cadres and health and
livestock officials to increase inspections across the
country of local poultry farms -- especially those in the 14
townships along the Thai border. Finally, the Committee
launched an aggressive education campaign in local media
aimed at both farmers and consumers. The GOB has not yet
ordered any culling of Burma's chicken flocks, though there
are rumors that the Committee has pre-emptively ordered the
quarantine of chicken farm workers along the Thai border.
This has not been verified, though.

Chicken Farming a Booming Business

4. (SBU) The GOB's vigilance is wise considering the huge
number of domestic and imported chickens raised and sold
across the country. According to a Ministry of Livestock and
Fisheries official, last year there were 62 million chickens
raised in Burma. Burmese farmers -- including at government
and military-owned farms -- have been raising increasing
numbers of chickens in response to a government campaign to
produce more "Myanmar meat and fish" to feed booming urban
populations and the supposedly increasing number of foreign
tourists. For the latter audience local chicken farmers have
been importing more and more Thai chicks (known as "CP
chickens," taking the name a large Thai agribusiness concern)
in recent years -- 12 million in 2003. Native Burmese
chickens are what we would affectionately call "free range;"
quite tough and scrawny, laying small and often fertilized
eggs. The CP chickens, farm-raised, tend to be larger, of
better health, and produce more, larger, and unfertilized
eggs.

5. (SBU) A local chicken farmer with whom we spoke said that
he knew of no outbreaks of the avian flu. However, he said
somewhat superstitiously that fellow Rangoon-area poultry
farmers had been complaining about a reduction in egg
production in the latter half of January. He also mentioned
the sudden deaths of 30,000 chickens along the southern
Burma-Thai border in mid-January, but thought it was due to
colder than normal weather in that region.

Comment: Is it Really Safe?

6. (SBU) As during the SARS scare of 2003, it will be
difficult to know for sure whether Burma remains avian flu
free. The government has made its claims, but it is not at
all clear that the GOB would make an announcement if it found
evidence of the flu -- instead possibly dealing quietly with
the suspected cases and maintaining the "flu free" posture.
Even with best intentions the GOB will have little luck
controlling the lengthy and porous Thai border if someone is
intent on importing potentially infected Thai chickens. The
plummeting local price of chicken meat and eggs, though,
makes it economically illogical for a Burmese farmer to do
so. End comment.
Martinez

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