Indonesia orders mass bird cull

Indonesia has ordered the mass slaughter of poultry to prevent the spread of the virulent avian flu virus.

The Indonesian government has admitted that millions of birds across the archipelago have been infected by the bird flu.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri has pledged compensation for livestock owners.

The World Health Organisation says culling is the only way to curb the outbreak.

Indonesia authorities report that some 4.7 million chickens have died since August, with 60 per cent dying of Newcastle disease and 40 per cent of a combination of Newcastle disease and avian influenza.

At least 400 farms have been hit by the outbreak.

The European Union has imposed a ban on imports of pet birds from nine Asian nations until the bird flu is under control.

Scientists have warned the bird flu – which up until now is transferred from live birds to humans – may mutate into a virus that spreads from humans to humans.

The bird flu has killed at least 10 people worldwide.

Closer to home, the European Commission has suspended imports of pet birds from countries hit by the bird flu.

The temporary ban will affect imports of parrots, cockatoos, finches, budgerigars, hawks and falcons from Cambodia, Indonesia, China including Hong Kong, Japan, Laos, Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

Last week, the Commission banned imports of fresh poultry and poultry products from Thailand.

Government minister Ben Bradshaw said: “I support this precautionary approach. The disease has spread quickly in the region and the true extent in affected countries remains uncertain. This brings a risk that the import conditions which protect against disease in captive birds may not be met.”

Separately, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue rejected Thursday the accusations made in the “New Scientist” magazine which suggested the new strain of bird flu began in China early last year.

The magazine said: “A combination of official cover-up and questionable farming practices allowed it to turn into the epidemic now under way.”