Friday, January 12, 2007

Fear of bird flu yet to reach those in the poultry business

Friday, January 12, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta


Despite the recent death of a 14-year-old boy from suspected bird flu, chicken breeders and slaughterhouse workers are unconvinced that the HN51 virus is any particular worry, giving residents the feeling there is little they can do to protect themselves.

"I am really scared, but what else can we do? We are powerless. The only thing we can do is to protect ourselves and our children,"
Yusuf, a resident of Pluis hamlet in Grogol Utara subdistrict, West Jakarta, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Yusuf hoped the government could prevent an outbreak of the virus in his neighborhood by intensifying inspections of poultry breeding sites and monitoring residents' health.

There are nine chicken suppliers in Pluis, each of which sells up to 1,000 chickens a day to nearby markets such as Palmerah and Tanah Abang in Central Jakarta and Kebayoran Lama in South Jakarta.

Residents say they have often observed chicken parts floating down the waterways in front of their homes.

"There'll be lots of chicken parts in the drainage ditches first thing in the morning and, if the ditches are running dry, there'll be even more," said a resident who asked not to be named.

The man, however, has never raised his concerns with the chicken suppliers to avoid conflict.

Kholifah, 57, who rents rooms to chicken vendors, said even though she had indirectly earned a living from the poultry industry for decades, she too feared avian influenza.

"I pray for God's protection from bird flu,"
she said.

Mulyadi, 61, one of the chicken suppliers, said he got broiler chickens from Tasikmalaya, Garut, Bandung and Majalaya -- all in West Java -- and could sell up to 800 chickens, with a total weight of 1.1 tons, a day.

He said the chickens were crowded by the hundred into his truck for the two-hour drive from the West Java cities to Jakarta.

At least 10 chickens would not survive the journey. Mulyadi said he dumped the dead birds into a bin for collection by the city sanitation service. .

He said he was not afraid of contracting bird flu because "broilers, unlikely free-range chickens, are not carriers of the disease".

Despite reports of bird flu resurfacing, it is business as usual.

None of the workers in the chickens warehouses Thursday wore protective clothing to handle the birds. Many could not remember when the chickens were last vaccinated.

Faisal, a restaurant employee who lives about 30 meters away from Mulyadi's warehouse, said he did not worry about bird flu.

"Thank God, so far no one in this neighborhood has fallen ill," he said.

However, some residents of Pisangan Lama, Cakung, East Jakarta, are concerned about a possible outbreak because there are more than seven chicken suppliers in the area.

The chickens are mostly brought from West Java. Most of them are sold to street vendors or food stalls around the city.

The residents said they had long worried that HN51 might be lurking in their environment due to the operation of the chicken warehouses and had spoken to the district head about the issue.

He responded by ordering the sellers to manage their waste better.

Hendro, a chicken vendor who has been in the business for 10 years, said his chickens had not been vaccinated since midway through last year.

The poultry business continues to be lucrative. Hendro, for example, sells up to 1,200 chicken a day, making as much as Rp 15 million.

Last year, at the height of the bird flu outbreak here, the city administration announced it was formulating an ordinance prohibiting residents from keeping free-range chickens, but the law has yet to be drafted. (02)

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