FAO studies cross-border trade of poultry commodities to improve risk management of avian influenza in the Greater Mekong Subregion
The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) includes Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam and the southern provinces of China. In the GMS, the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in early 2003 and highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) from 2004 to 2010 has marked this region as a hotspot for emerging infectious diseases.
Animal diseases that can also infect humans (called zoonotic diseases) are of greater global concern, given that growing economic integration, labour migration to urban centres and trade expansion make it possible for disease outbreaks to spread rapidly among human populations. Developed and developing countries are receptive to the need of improving our understanding of the dynamics of pathogen pools which originate in domestic animals and wildlife and subsequently infect humans as recently seen with pandemic H1N1 virus.
Similarly, there is also a greater appreciation of how public health threats, and the fears they create, can potentially impact economic progress, social development, and national security. Given this context, the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have undertaken a collaborative study to improve understanding of cross-border trade of poultry commodities in order to improve risk management of avian influenza in the GMS, which will be completed by mid 2010.
The project has highlighted the urgent need to understand major Consumption Centres where rapidly rising incomes and urbanization, combined with population growth are driving demand for all meats, but especially poultry meat. These demands have stimulated the creation and growth of major poultry Production Clusters in the GMS. Sustained economic progress in the GMS has also promoted the construction of transportation infrastructures, creating new opportunities for trade and movement between and within countries. These land-based trade routes or Movement Corridors link production clusters with consumption centres throughout the GMS, and understanding how poultry commodities are produced, moved and consumed is a core element of this project.
People involved in poultry-related commerce and trade are seen as critical in terms of HPAI risk management within and across borders in the GMS and elsewhere. FAOs Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) is addressing this multidimensional animal and human health issue using a people-centred approach. This approach focuses risk analyses on people involved in the production, consumption and trade of poultry products, since they bring disease agents and hosts together. These people are poultry keepers, poultry traders, poultry sellers, poultry input suppliers and visiting veterinarians, among others. Understanding who these people are, and how they perceive and manage the many disease risks they face is a central aspect of designing and targeting the right interventions under a comprehensive avian influenza risk management framework.
The preliminary findings of this study suggest that the project has helped in determining that some poultry commodities are moving long distances across the GMS. For instance, one important example are eggs and spent hens (i.e. hens at the end of their productive life as egg layers). These poultry commodities can potentially move two or three thousand kilometres and create links across poultry populations from north to south of the region. The people involved in moving the birds have developed sophisticated ways of managing them and ensuring they arrive at the consumption centres in reasonable condition; ducks are also moved across borders, but the routes tend not to be as long or as sophisticated.
Finding which anthropogenic practices effectively reduce disease risks while improving peoples ability to supply stable and safer poultry commodities and protect rural livelihoods is the most pressing challenge to avian influenza risk management in the years to come.
This can only be achieved by actively engaging people involved in poultry production and marketing systems, and by understanding their practices and trading patterns. This project, with support from FAO and RVC, is helping identify the main poultry commodities and the people involved in cross-border trade to make this challenge easier and cost-effective.