Feb 20, 2006: GUJARAT - Admitting that the possibility of migratory birds having brought the bird flu virus to Nandurbar is thin based on the evidence so far, officials are now zeroing in on the “bird feed” and “feed additives” that poultry farmers import.
What has made them look at this closely is that Indonesia is a prime exporter of bird feed to farmers here. Indonesia reported its 19th bird flu death on Saturday, the day India reported its first bird flu cases.
Although import of feed is banned, the ban came into effect only in November 2005 and officials feel that stocks, in the absence of any regulatory authority, could still be in use.
While the migratory-bird hypothesis is also being pursued, officials point out the discrepancies: although the backwaters of Ukai Dam touch Uchchaal from where Navapur is only 1.5 km and the banks of river Rangawali touch both Uchchaal and Navapur, no migratory birds have been spotted since November. Surat Conservator of Forests R J Asari confirmed there are no other water bodies near Navapur except these and absolutely none in the dry Nandurbar region.
So Gujarat’s Animal Husbandry department officials are focusing on imported feed. “We have put officials on this job of investigating what kind of bird feed is imported and from where. We will be totally concentrating on this angle once culling is over in Uchchaal,” said D K Rao, Secretary, Animal Husbandry and Cow-breeding.
“The poultry feed is imported from Indonesia, that much we have confirmed,” Rao said. “The feed additives are also imported from Indonesia as well as China. We are checking what this poultry feed exactly is.”
Officials say that although soyabean, which is the main ingredient in bird feed, is available in abundance in Gujarat and is actually exported, feed mixtures consisting rice bran, wheat pollard, animal byproduct meal and rapeseed meal are imported.
Checking the feed is going to be difficult, admitted Director of Animal Husbandry R B Shukla. “We don’t know what individual poultry farmers are doing in their farms, what they are feeding and where they are getting it from. Although poultry feed imports are banned since November 2005 we are checking this angle,” Shukla said. Most poultry farmers deny they use imported bird feed. “We used to import but stopped after an epidemic breakout in 1995. Also, after November 2005, all poultry imports are banned,” said Nathubhai Patel of Susheel Poultry Farm near Vyara on Surat-Songadh NH 6. However, as inspection teams began visits, most poultry farmowners have gone underground. Nathubhai Patel’s son Yogeshbhai Patel, owner of Susheel Poultry Farm and chairman of the South Gujarat poultry owners association, has been incommunicado since Monday morning. Meanwhile, a day after about 50,000 birds were culled in three poultry farms here, the fear that the flu might find its way into other farms has got poultry owners in Surat district running scared.
Fearing that even if one bird dies of sickness, they will have a lot of explaining to do to officials who may very well ask all birds to be culled, the 164 poultry farmowners in Surat have quarantined their farms.
In fact, Animal Husbandry officials have already sealed 22 other poultry farms in villages in Uchchaal taluka fearing the the flu might spread there although they are all outside the “alert zone” (3-km radius of Navapur.)
“We know that birds started dying in Navapur at least 20 days ago. Since then, so many birds have been brought here and sold in the markets. Most of them have already been consumed but what if some of the birds are still lying at somebody’s farm or shop? We don’t want to take the risk of the disease spreading,” said Nathubhai Patel.
Overnight, signboards have come up outside all poultry farms warning against venturing inside; guards have been posted to prevent inquisitive visitors and huge locks have come up on gates. “We have to do this. We don’t know who is coming from Navapur and what he is carrying. We are not allowing outsiders or vehicles, poultry or otherwise, inside. Our own caretakers are disinfected before and after they feed the birds,” said Nayeem Kinariwala, a poultry owner of Olpad. Asked about imported bird feed, Nayeembhai’s response is the typical one here: “What each owner does only he knows. Only an inspection will reveal all that.”