Md (Mohammad) Ali Noor, a joint secretary (senior official) at the country’s Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, said a quarantine station would be established at Osmani International Airport, in Sylhet, north-east Bangladesh. Similar facilities would also be set up at Tamabil, Zakiganj, Sutarkandi, Bituli, Burimari and Birol international land crossings with India.
All would be operational by the end of this year, he said. They will complement the existing 17 Bangladesh quarantine facilities, including at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, Dhaka, and Chittagong sea port. These today assess livestock and animal products for health standards, although until 2013, their focus was on screening human passengers for disease and agricultural crops.
“We’ve two objectives: to stop spread of animal diseases and transmission to humans,” insisted Dr Shafiqul Islam, who directs the government’s three-year-old Livestock Diseases Prevention and Control project, which was established to create livestock and animal product health checks. “What we want is good food and disease-free food,” he told GlobalMeatNews.
But Moshiur Rahman, convener of trade lobby Bangladesh Poultry Industries Coordination Committee and an advisor to the Breeders Association of Bangladesh, is concerned about the effectiveness of these facilities: “The initiative is good. But if you cannot implement [the controls], it is useless,” he told GlobalMeatNews. He said he had heard promises about improved controls, but asked, rhetorically: “Have you seen these in action?”
Islam, whose unit is part of the government’s Department of Livestock Services, acknowledged more staff and equipment were still needed at many quarantine stations.
But he said that if quarantine officers detected diseased animals or livestock products unsuitable for consumption, they would indeed block their entry to the country and arrange for their destruction.
While there are no reliable statistics, industry estimates say 500,000 cattle enter Bangladesh from neighbouring India annually via a long porous land border. Also, Bangladesh’s poultry industry has been procuring stock especially from the USA, Britain and France.
“This massive import exposes our animals to various emerging infectious diseases such as bird flu, mad cow, anthrax and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD),” Noor told GlobalMeatNews.
Certainly, it is clear Bangladesh needs better animal health controls. It has experienced several bird flu outbreaks, costing the south Asian economy US$550 million since 2007. Since 2008, eight people were infected by the H5N1 virus and, of those, one person died. It is also exposed to Indian cases of FMD, which costs India US$4.5bn a year, according to the Asian Development Bank.
Nitish Debnath, a Dhaka-based consultant for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, welcomed the programme, but said the government should work hard to ensure its quarantine stations were effective: “This is pretty important. If the system can be operated efficiently, it will protect animals and national resources,” he told GlobalMeatNews.