There’s good and bad news coming out of the poultry industry tonight which could affect your dinner table at Christmas time. The situation is that the recent confirmation of the presence of Newcastle Disease among laying hens at the main supplier of eggs Country Foods Products farms will affect the availability of eggs in the next few weeks. So while there will not be a shortage of chickens, if Government approves the importation of eggs, then the price is likely to go up by a couple shillings per dozen. Marion Ali travelled west to better understand the scope of the impact of the disease on the industry.

Marion Ali, Reporting
Three weeks ago, poultry handlers at Country Foods Products in Spanish Lookout noticed that the vast majority of the laying hens at 5 of their farms had become suddenly ill. Suspicious of it being a contagious poultry disease, Country Foods called in officials from the Belize Agricultural Health Authority, who immediately ordered that the barns on those farms be terminated and the hens disposed of.

Victor Gongora, Dir., Animal Health, BAHA
“The clinical signs that we’re seeing are high mortality because we do have birds that when you open them you’ll see hemorrhages in the proventriculous, which is the area just before the stomach. If we have an infected farm - if we have, for argument sake, let’s say 5,000 birds and we have seen high mortality, as I’ve mentioned, you are in the suspect area we said better we go and stomp out that disease. So we will destroy all birds. The concern would be with the birds and not with the people because you can eat it, it’s safe. But if when you’re preparing the bird, other birds come and get the remains of that raw poultry, then they could get infection.”

Allen Reimer, Overseer, Quality Poultry Products
“It took about 6 days to go in a flock from 2,000. From it started until it was finished took about 6 days.”

Marion Ali
“And then it spread to other barns, or how did it go?”

Allen Reimer
“Then the symptoms were noticed in adjacent barns and the older hens were more susceptible; they died a lot faster. The small layers and the broilers, they died less but the symptoms were there and in about 10 days from the onset of it we noticed it on the second farm. It’s about 28,000 chickens between layers, pullets, and broilers.”

Quality Poultry Products buys eggs from Country Foods Farms and according to Overseer at Quality Poultry, Allen Reimer, and Manager at Country Foods, Frank Thiessen, the loss of the laying hens will greatly affect the availability of eggs for Christmas. But poultry handlers have approached Government to help allay that problem.

Frank Thiessen, Manager, Country Foods
“It’s true that our egg production has gone down some, probably 10%-15% percent. With the usual amount of increase during the Christmas season, it will definitely create a bigger shortage, that is true. But however, how much it’s going to affect, we still have to find out.”

Marion Ali
“What are you doing to alleviate the problem?”

Frank Thiessen
“We are checking out import sources in Central America and in the United States and we’re barely living with it, we’re working with the ministers, with BAHA, doing as much as we can to ensure that the Belizeans will have eggs for Christmas.”

Allen Reimer
“They are working currently with the Government trying to get an import license for eggs so we won’t have a shortage for Christmas. But they are not finished; it’s on the Minister’s desk right now, nothing concrete has come out yet, but thye’re gonna expect a rise in cost of eggs.”

Marion Ali
“By how much?”

Allen Reimer
“It will depend on if the Government will be willing to take away the duties or not.”

But what could have caused the disease to spread rampantly through 5 farms in the first place? While they’re not yet sure, Director of Animal Health at BAHA, Doctor Gongora shares two possible scenarios.

Dr. Victor Gongora
“The worker that comes from a nearby village comes to work at the layer farms would have had a problem with those chickens and then brought it in undisclosed or on the shoes because the virus moves on the stool so what they had on contaminated clothes, that could bring it in.”

Marion Ali
“But you didn’t get a report of any other aside from these farms here.”

Dr. Victor Gongora
“My second point was the floods. We had a lot of floods in Spanish Lookout and what happens is the river, the source begins in Belize, goes to Guatemala and comes back to Belize. That water that’s flood out was being used at those poultry farms. So we believe that a lot of birds died because of the floods and if they had the virus it would probably be because of the water. So because the birds were fed or given this water to drink then that could also be a probability.”

And because poultry producers and BAHA officials do not want a recurrence of the incident, they are taking no chances in protecting the surviving chickens on all the surrounding farms.

Allen Reimer
“At the advice of BAHA, everything has been vaccinated after that and the vaccine has some secondary side effects to it too such as the chickens not looking absolutely healthy but that can be a secondary effect of the vaccination. So at the moment we’re just monitoring but we haven’t diagnosed any other outbreak.”

Marion Ali
“What kind of monitoring system do you have in place to ensure that Newcastle doesn’t spread to any other poultry or other farms of bird life?”

Dr. Victor Gongora
“What is helping us right now is the Avian Influenza preparedness plan that we have. We have an Avian Influenza programme, so we’re always out in the communities in the districts getting samples of birds and testing them for Avian Influenza. Now with this, we can add the Newcastle surveillance and make sure that we’re not picking up any Newcastle in the country.”

Marion Ali
“How intense is that surveillance?”

Dr. Victor Gongora
“We do it 3 times a year throughout the country. It’s enough by international standards to say that we’re free, but we’re also now including on a regular basis, all the birds that are kept for a long time like layers. So we are doing those periodically as well.”

Because of the loss of laying hens, it will take another 3 to 4 months before locally produced eggs are once again on the market. Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.

BAHA officials have also now begun to vaccinate cattle in the Belize River Valley to eliminate Black Leg Disease, another type of illness caused by the flooding.

Channel 5 News 11/24