NANCHANG, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- UN officials on Thursday
said migratory birds do not play a major role in the transmission of the highly
pathogenic avian influenza H5N1.
They made the remarks at the first international
Living Lakes Conference in this capital of east China's Jiangxi Province.
Dr. Vincent Martin, an official with the Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UNFAO), said the spread of bird
flu is mainly the result of the world's fast and unregulated development of
animal production to meet the increased demand for animal protein.
Highly concentrated domestic poultry production
systems, especially in Asia, are still using centuries-old practices that place
humans and poultry in close proximity, he said.
Meanwhile, the constantly evolving nature of the
virus has provided the ideal conditions for the emergence of new pathogenic
strains of avian influenza.
Evidence indicates wild migratory birds play a minor
role in the long-distance spread of the virus, he said, adding that the main
causes of the deadly disease are the trade of poultry and poultry products.
Marco Barbieri, executive secretary of Convention on
Migratory Species (CMS) of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), said
the spread of bird flu receives a lot of attention in the media yet there
remains widespread misunderstanding of the issue.
Misinformation has led to wild birds being
automatically blamed, the official said. "This creates political pressure for
ill-advised and disproportionate policies such as the culling or harassment of
wild birds and the destruction of wetland habitats."
According to Barbieri, other modes of transmission,
such as the trade in poultry and poultry products, the trade in caged birds and
human movements may well play a far more significant role in the spread of the
In some cases, these modes of transmission have been
underestimated and do not receive proportionate exposure in the media, he said.
"We need to present an accurate and balanced view which acknowledges that there
are a number of factors whose relative importance can change, depending on the
area or outbreak concerned."
On the role of wild birds in transmission of the bird
flu, Barbieri said it is clear that trade in domestic poultry has been a crucial
factor, even in transmitting avian influenza over long distances and across
However, numerous species of wild birds, especially
water fowl, have been proven to be susceptible to infection by H5N1, he pointed
Close contact between wild birds and poultry can lead
The loss of wetlands around the globe has forced many
wild birds onto alternative sites like farm ponds and paddy fields, bringing
them into closer contact with chickens, ducks, geese, and other domestic fowl.
The experts say the issue of "ecohealth" highlights
the interplay between agriculture and the ecology.
A long term solution would be to separate poultry
operations and wetlands used by wild birds in order to avoid shared access and
cross-contamination, the UN officials suggested.
Wild birds and poultry in the same region should not
have direct contact with each other, and runoff from domestic poultry operations
must not pollute wetlands used by wild birds.
"Farmers can help to reduce the risks of direct
transmission of poultry and cross-infection between wild and domestic birds by
improving hygiene and bio-security standards in farms and during the
transportation of birds, said Barbieri.
Scientists should synthesize information on the
routes and timing of water bird migration, especially of poorly known
intra-African migrants, and birds using Central Asian, Asia-Pacific and
"We need to strengthen bird research worldwide,
especially in areas where little or no ringing and counting schemes have
operated in the past," he said.
The official urged all countries to strengthen field
surveillance of wild birds and enhance the understanding of wild bird migration
and use of important sites during migration.
They must avoid unjustified and counter-productive
measure such as culling of wild birds and destruction of the natural habitats on
which they depend, such as wetlands, he said.
"The governments should also work with site
management and veterinary authorities to ensure regular and effective site
monitoring, aimed at rapid detection and reporting of any potential H5N1
outbreak," he added.
Along with the three officials, more than 200 world
experts and officials discussed sustainable lake management, avian influenza and
wildlife habitat conservation during the two-day forum.