Extract from Farming Today Thursday 22 March 2007Farming Today Bird Flu experts are meeting this week in Verona at a conference organised by the UN, the World Animal Health Organisation and the EU. They've been discussing vaccination. In Vietnam, vaccinating flocks against H5N1 has been pronounced a success; before the programme 44 human deaths had been attributed to this virulent form of Bird Flu; after vaccinating the chickens no human deaths have been reported.
Farming Today Richard Sanders from the Organic Research Centre Elm Farm is at the conference. I asked him if the Vietnamese results were really so clear-cut.
Richard Sanders: They certainly seem to be. The representatives for the Food and Agricultural Organisation in SOuth East Asia was very enthusiastic about what had happened in Vietnam. They are also very enthusiastic about what's been happening in Hong Kong. Hong Kong they vaccinate their birds and they also vaccinate any poultry that's coming in from Mainland China into Hong Kong. They've had no cases of H5N1 in poultry since vaccination and of course they have had no cases in humans either.
Farming Today In Vietnam though the drop in human deaths could also be attributed to other factors, couldn't it; the change in the way chickens are farmed because of fears about H5N1 and the recent clamp-down on cock-fighting.
Richard Sanders: Those are obviously factors as well and nobody claims that vaccination is a magic bullet for H5N1 or avian influenza control generally. But it's a very interesting fact that since vaccination programmes started this total absence of human deaths has occurred and, without the scientific basis to prove that conclusively, the conclusion has been drawn that the two are linked.
Farming Today The organic movement here which obviously you are part of is very keen on vaccination. Do you feel that you are winning the argument now?
Richard Sanders:Well I think we are winning the argument on the basis that not only is the vaccination of poultry about the improvement and safety of poultry health, it is also, as you can see in Vietnam, a very useful device for improving the prospects for human health. And that is one of the things that has been discussed here in Verona that if we can see more and more cases such as Vietnam where vaccination has impacted on human health situation then I think that does help us to win an argument. There's nothing that is going to engage the minds of politicians in the developed world more than if you can see that there's a linkage between vaccination in poultry which will then impact upon human health and human safety.
Farming Today But many in the developed world, in Europe and here in Britain are worried about the trade implications of vaccination.
Richard Sanders: It does seem quite ridiculous that we have seen papers where absolutely no risk of vaccinated birds or vaccinated poultry products being traded with absolutely no human health risk - you can't find any virus dangers or any vaccine dangers as a result of vaccination. The danger is that vaccination of poultry for avian influenza is being used as a non-tariff barrier. It is yet another excuse to interfere with trade and people to pursue political gains.
Farming Today Where does this conference go? It is going to make some recommendations. Where will they go and what will change?
Richard Sanders:I think one of the things that has to change is that vaccination viewed for a developed economy perspective seems at the moment - that it's OK to be used in developing economies like Vietnam; we're all keen sitting in Europe and North America to lessen the threat of emerging diseases or spreading diseases such as avian influenza coming from the likes of Vietnam. "Vaccination is good for those people," we say but then we won't use it un our own developed economies because of issues of trade or "consumer acceptance" and I think that flowing from this conference has to be a far greater understanding globally that vaccination is a useful tool whether you are a developed nation or a developing nation.
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