Vietnam continues to poison pigeons despite FAO warning

Vietnam will continue a campaign to poison wild pigeons in an effort to contain bird flu, an official said Wednesday, despite a U.N. warning that governments should stay focused on halting the virus in poultry stocks. Authorities in southern Ho Chi Minh City this week began killing pigeons in school yards, parks and other public places to try to minimize the spread of the H5N1 bird flu virus, said Phan Xuan Thao, deputy director of the city animal health department.

"The measure is necessary to minimize risk to human health," he said, adding there are no plans to halt the campaign.

After hearing reports from Vietnam, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization issued a statement Tuesday warning countries not to switch their attention from poultry to wild birds. "This is unlikely to make any significant contribution to the protection of humans against avian influenza," Juan Lubroth, a senior animal official said in the statement posted on the Rome-based FAO's Web site.

"There are other, much more important measures to be considered that deserve priority attention," he added. "Fighting the disease in poultry must remain the main focus of attention."

In addition, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has ordered provincial governments nationwide to reduce poultry stocks to stop raising all hatchlings, Wednesday's Youth newspaper reported. Bird flu outbreaks have re-emerged in 20 provinces throughout Vietnam since early October, killing or forcing the slaughter of nearly 2 million birds.

Poultry farmers in some southern Mekong Delta provinces and in northern Vietnam have released their poultry flocks into rice fields because they cannot sell them and are unable to afford feed, said Hoang Van Nam, deputy director of the National Animal Health Department. "This practice would increase the risk of spreading the virus further," he said.

The government compensates 15,000 dong (95 cents) for fowl slaughtered in areas infected with bird flu and 10,000 dong (63 cents) apiece in areas not infected by the outbreaks, which is less than half the market price, reports the AP. I.L.

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