The Council of Agriculture (COA) reported its first outbreak of highly pathogenic influenza to the World Organisation of Animal Health (OIE) on 3 March, after chickens on farms in central and southern Taiwan tested positive for the H5N2 strain of the disease.
However, the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) alleged that the government had discovered cases of highly pathonogenic H5N2 avian influenza in 2010, but did not report them. The group claimed that the COA wrongly classified three outbreaks in Changhua, central Taiwan, in 2010 as low pathogenic after changing the criteria for determining whether an outbreak was highly pathogenic or not.
Documentary filmmaker Lee Hui-jen, who spent six years making a documentary on avian flu in Taiwan, has also criticised the government’s handling of bird flu. He said that he discovered highly pathogenic bird flu in Changhua in December and sent samples of dead infected chickens to the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, but that the government delayed reporting the incident until a further outbreak was discovered in February 2012.
The Taiwanese government has admitted to the outbreak in December, but said there was no cover-up. Taiwan’s premier Sean Chen said: “During that period of time, the agricultural ministry and also the health inspection council could not confirm whether it was highly pathogenic, so this was not a case of cover-up, they must follow their standard procedures. But after reviewing their report, I think, in Changhua’s case, actions taken to identify and exterminate the chicken problem were too slow. There should be more to discuss on that front.”
However, Hsu Tien-lai, director-general of Taiwan’s Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, resigned after the COA confirmed the avian flu outbreak and prosecutors have launched an investigation. The Legislative Yuan’s Economics Committee has also asked the COA to submit all of its documents on the monitoring of avian influenza since 2008.
Taiwan has placed a ban on all poultry exports including live birds, poultry meat, preserved eggs, salted duck eggs, raw eggs and pet birds. The COA said that exports will resume only once the country has been free of the virus for 3 months. The ban could lead to losses of NT$600m ($20.3m), the COA said.
The H5N2 strain of avian influenza does not infect humans.