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Cablegate: Avian Influenza in Bangladesh Only a Matter Of

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




E.O. 12958: N/A


Sensitive but unclassified

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: There is currently no indication of avian
influenza (AI) in Bangladesh. Conditions, however, are ripe
for the emergence of AI: Almost no general public awareness
of the problem; very poor public health infrastructure; a
government without the political will to make and enforce
unpopular decisions necessary to contain an outbreak; no
livestock insurance for farmers instructed to destroy
infected flocks; open chicken houses, even on large farms;
porous national borders; a black market trade in Indian
chicks, eggs and illegally made avian influenza vaccines; and
avian influenza in most, if not all, countries surrounding
Bangladesh. BDG steps to prevent infection are largely
limited to poorly enforced restrictions on import of chicks
from infected countries. There are signs, however, that the
BDG is beginning to understand the risks posed by AI. END


2. (U) Chicken, being the cheapest meat available, has
outpaced fish as the most common source of high-quality
protein for Bangladeshis. One poultry farm owner estimated
that about 30 eggs and about 1.5 kilograms of chicken are
consumed per person per year. (COMMENT: This is an extremely
small amount but, though it masks the higher consumption
levels of the better-off, it tracks with the general food
insecurity of the impoverished half of Bangladesh's
population. END COMMENT.) Another farmer estimated that a
given family of poor Bangladeshis would eat chicken as their
protein source about four times a week. Another four times a
week the same family will consume dal, a lentil/pulse-based
soup that is an excellent source of vegetable protein.

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3. (U) In the last 10 to 15 years, the poultry industry in
Bangladesh has grown from about two million "broilers"
(chickens grown for eventual consumption) in 1992 to
approximately 250 million produced per year in 2003. At any
one time, there are about 20 million broiler chickens in
Bangladesh. This figure does not include egg producing
"layers" or stock chicks. Syed Abu Siddique, the Secretary
General of the Bangladesh Poultry Industries Association and
the Managing Director of Silver Carp Ltd. poultry farm,
estimates that about 3.5 million people are involved in the
direct production of poultry in Bangladesh.

4. (U) The BDG has made an effort to strengthen the poultry
farming industry in Bangladesh, granting it tax-free status.
The industry also benefits from the 2004 ban on imported
poultry, eggs, and stock chicks from nine surrounding
countries, which the BDG believes to be infected with AI,
including India. Thailand has recently begun exporting
cooked chicken but has not been able to return to the export
of live chickens, eggs or parent stock.

5. (U) Following the January 23, 2004 announcement that AI
was confirmed in Thailand after months of speculation, the
bottom fell out of the poultry industry in South East Asia,
including Bangladesh. A confused local population, deprived
of high quality information and aware that the government of
Thailand had long fought the truth of an AI infection within
its own borders, assumed that "if it can happen there, it can
happen here" and took no chances with the veracity of the

6. (SBU) The resulting boycott of poultry sold in
Bangladesh, regardless of source, lasted for several months.
Kazi Farm, the largest producer of stock chicks and poultry
feed and the only poultry exporter in Bangladesh, was forced
to destroy 8.6 million chicks to avoid huge losses from
feeding and raising them. Poultry purchases have returned to
normal and Bangladesh is now facing a higher demand for
chicks than local producers can supply, a situation that Kazi
Farms says will be rectified no later than November of this
year, when their growing flocks begin laying. Kazi Zahin
Hasan, the farm's Director and son of the founder, believes
that within 6 to 12 months, local supplies of chicks for
stock will be enough that there will no longer be a need for
imports from India, which some farmers are pressing for. Mr.
Siddique of Silver Carp agrees that production in the
industry as a whole could be tripled in the same period if
demand were to increase.


7. (U) According to a Wetlands International map of
migration routes, migratory birds, which are believed to be
the primary reservoirs of H5N1, fly yearly through Russia,
China and India. Russia and China have both had confirmed
outbreaks of H5N1. India claims to remain free of the virus
but, even if HPAI (Highly-Pathogenic Avian Influenza) is not
present in India, the presence of LPAI is cause for serious

8. (U) An outbreak of AI in Bangladesh would likely
devastate the domestic poultry industry. While destruction of
commercial flocks would be a straightforward process to
execute, requiring little technical expertise, political
pressures and corruption might delay or prevent the
destruction of some flocks, allowing the disease to spread
further. These problems would be magnified in rural areas
throughout the country, where there are large numbers of
small flocks, making containment and eradication difficult.
9. (U) Even more worrisome would be the emergence of human
AI infections in Bangladesh, even if only mildly contagious.
Bangladesh is the most densely populated nation on earth.
Access to safe sanitation and clean water are problematic for
much of the population, which often suffers from inadequate
food and nutrition as well, making them potentially more
susceptible to disease. These conditions would be expected
to facilitate the spread of any human AI infection in

--------------------------------------------- ---------

10. (SBU) Whether or not Bangladesh is to import any poultry
from India or if it is to rely on a homegrown industry is of
central importance regarding the prevention of an AI outbreak
here. Available scientific evidence, including published
test results from the central Indian animal testing
laboratory in Bhopal, points to the presence of
Low-Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) in India. Swabs from
Indian farm workers in Chennai, taken in 2000 and tested both
in India and at the CDC, indicate the presence of H5N1, the
most virulent strain known of AI and the most likely to kill
humans. However, CDC experts reported to New Delhi's Health
Attache that the results of their assays, though troubling,
did not confirm the presence of H5N1 in Indian poultry or
poultry workers at this time. (Reftel).

11. (U) Vaccines are now routinely produced on the black
market in India that supposedly protect against both
Newcastle, a common poultry disease that is not dangerous to
humans, and AI. The AI protection is not legal and so it is
not listed on the bottle, instead the vaccine is called
"anti-variant" and it is not produced according to OIE
standards (World Organization for Animal Health), the world
body that monitors livestock health. Dr. MM Khan, a
veterinarian and respected animal health researcher at
Advance Animal Science Co. Ltd., a Bangladeshi purveyor of
animal nutrition additives, chicken vaccines and medicines,
reported in two studies that he passed to EconOff in hard
copy, that vaccines he obtained from these "backdoor" Indian
operators caused the chickens he tested them on to begin
producing antigen to AI, as is expected.

12. (SBU) Unfortunately, as a result of poor production
practices and uncontrolled variations in the amount of AI
virus in these vaccines, it is entirely possible that these
vaccines could also serve as infectious agents. Dr. Khan
claims that the head of Hester Pharmaceuticals in India, an
animal vaccine manufacturer, recently infected himself and
his test flock with AI while trying to produce an illegal
vaccine with a higher titre level (in an attempt to increase
protection against the disease) and ended up in the hospital.
EconOff did not attempt to independently verify the veracity
of this report.

13. (U) Following the 2004 outbreak of AI in Thailand,
Bangladesh banned poultry and stock chick imports from nine
South and East Asian countries, including India. In the last
year, India has faced a surplus of stock chicks, having lost
the Bangladesh export market, and its farmers are desperate
to relieve themselves of produce. The GOI is putting
pressure on the Minister of Livestock, the government
official responsible for the ban, to lift restrictions on
imports of stock chicks from India.

14. (SBU) There are three major producers of grandparent
stock chicks that supply the rest of the world. These
companies are located in Europe, North America and India. MM
Aga Khan Farms in Chittagong, the home district of the
Livestock Minister, prefers to purchase its grandparent stock
chicks from India due to the cheaper prices. Other large
farms, Kazi farms included, complain that this is
irresponsible due to the long-term loss that faces the entire
poultry industry if AI in any form, LPAI or HPAI, crosses
Bangladesh's borders.


15. (U) While there is an adequate livestock disease
monitoring laboratory infrastructure in Bangladesh, according
to the owner of the largest poultry farm in Bangladesh, Kazi
Farms, it is of little use to those producers that can afford
it because there is no confidentiality of test results. For
small farm owners, the costs of the government laboratories
simply put them out of reach entirely. This means that large
farms create their own laboratories that may or may not
provide surveillance information to the OIE, and small farms
simply do not test.

16. (U) Kazi farms is leading an initiative to introduce
livestock insurance to protect farmers that are required to
destroy their flocks; however, it has garnered almost no
support among the various poultry breeder and farmer
associations. Kazi Farms' has suggested that a tax be
imposed on the sale of chicks and feed between large farms
and that the funds from this tax go to a National Livestock
Insurance Policy and AI surveillance system. Kazi Zahin
Hasan, Director of Kazi Farms, explains that the purchase of
chicken by the consumer need not have an additional tax, only
the sale of stock and supplies within the industry.
(COMMENT: This does not mean that the added cost of an
internal tax on a currently tax-free industry would not be
passed on to the consumer. END COMMENT.)

17. (SBU) The majority of the opposition to this plan comes
from smaller farms. Kazi points out, however, that these
farms are not registered with the government and so are not
traceable for tax purposes. It is only the large farms,
which must register in order to qualify for business loans
from government banks, which would be vulnerable to any
taxation system. These large farms, Kazi argues, can bear
the expense. In the event of an AI outbreak, an increasingly
likely event, the large farms in particular cannot afford to
ignore the need for livestock insurance funded by a tax or
some other private procurement, Kazi points out.

18. (SBU) Without compensation for destroyed chickens, no
one interviewed by EconOff expects that farmers would
actually comply with destruction orders. Dr. MM Khan opined
that farmers required to dispose of infected birds would
probably sell them and then claim to have destroyed them. He
stated that they might do this anyway, even with livestock
insurance, thereby getting paid both by the government and by
a buyer.


18. (U) According to a wide array of industry contacts, the
Minister of Livestock and Fisheries is proactive on the issue
of AI. He enacted the nine-country ban in 2004 that is
largely responsible for protecting Bangladesh's poultry
industry from infection. He has been, up to now, the only
high level BDG official interested in the issue. However,
with recent WHO guidelines and USG-generated UNGA publicity
on the issue, the Health Minister has shown recent interest
in the issue as well.

19. (SBU) Recent attempts by EconOff to meet with the
Minister of Livestock, supposedly an accessible official, and
a Director General at the Ministry of Environment, were
canceled at the last minute by both ministries. EconOff will
continue to attempt to meet with officials at all four
relevant ministries: Livestock, Health, Agriculture and


20. (SBU) "Catastrophe" is probably not an understatement
for an avian influenza outbreak in Bangladesh. An industry
would be wiped out and a source of additional income and
protein for small-scale occasional farmers would be gone.
Added food insecurity would only ripen the ground for human
infections if the virus form that arrives is capable of
crossing the species barrier. Even if an early strain of AI
in Bangladesh is not initially contagious to humans, all
expert evidence examined by EconOff indicates that it could
quickly and easily become so.

21. (SBU) Apart from the Livestock Ministry, the BDG has
taken little interest in AI. That seems to be changing, as
other ministries begin to understand the potential impact of
a confirmed AI infection in Bangladesh. Embassy reporting on
preventive measures in place and likely government response
to an outbreak will be forthcoming as information becomes

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