A couple of weeks ago, the Belize Agricultural Health Authority, BAHA, commenced the mass eradication of poultry in the Spanish lookout community after it was confirmed that a number of chickens were affected with the avian influenza virus, a low pathogenic disease commonly found in birds. Since then, about 60 thousand birds have been destroyed causing farmers in the Spanish lookout community to incur up to 3 million dollars worth of loss. Our news team visited the Spanish Lookout community to speak with the affected farmers, but they were reluctant to grant us an interview without the green light of the Belize Farmers Association, who’s representatives happened to be out of the countryAs we arrived in the community, signs of BAHA’s presence were clearly notable. To get in to the community is no hassle, but BAHA checkpoints stop every single vehicle to ensure no chickens come out of that community. Signs of BAHA’s presence were also on the farms. This one farm had over 2 thousand chickens, most of them laying hens. Now the chicken coup is empty, with only strays of feathers here and there to suggest there were ever any chickens here. Another farmer we visited told us off the recorder that he suffered about 300 thousand dollars worth of loss during the mass slaughtering of chickens. We spoke to several other farmers who told us they lost quite a sizable amount of chickens. Yet some farmers told us they volunteered to eradicate their own chickens as they understood risks of keeping their infected chickens. Jose Alpuche, CEO in the Ministry of Agriculture, was on this morning’s Rise and Shine Show and spoke about the matter. Jose Alpuche – CEO, Ministry of Agriculture The community agree with BAHA to undertake voluntary depopulation. I must say, I empathized, I even sympathized with them for the economic loss. Because they probably loss about 3 million dollars at least so far. So, it’s a heavy impact, but they recognized that we absolutely need to get the virus/outbreak under control. We’ve done two rounds to testing, the third round of testing started last week. The idea is that through continuous testing, especially in the hot zone, we are trying to get to day zero. The day when we don’t find any infection. Then from there, we habe a long protocol that we need to follow before we can lift the quarentine “ About 12 farms in the Spanish Lookout community have been depopulated and officials say about 4 more are expected to be depopulated as well. Jose Alpuche “We’ve had infections with a very tight zone within Spanish Lookout. We also too detected the virus in a village called Buena Vista, which is just outside. Buena Vista, the local back yard hens were all depopulated. Needless to say, it created a lot of difficulty but we have to do it. We know the people are hurting, but we have to do it to contain the outbreak. Within Spanish Lookout, we have already depopulated …, I believe, twelve farms. We have four more slated for depopulation. With these two rounds of depopulation, it will end up being about seventy five thousand birds.” At the start of the operation, there was a concern among some of the farmers that the chickens were being exterminated without enough proof that their chickens were infected with the disease. However, CEO Alpuche says there can be no doubt about their testing methods Jose Alpuche “The science of the testing is spot on. We picked up the disease here in Belize first through BAHA. We then sent the samples for testing in the U.S and they confirmed exactly what it was. The last… I think it is four farms that need to be depopulated are the ones we had some difficulty with. We knew that the science was accurate but to quell the fear of the farmers, we still went and did the second test… and two different types of test; the ELISA and AGI test on it and they have come back positive. The strain of virus that was found is what is called zoonotic – that it can transmit from animals to human and also too it can mutate. What we have right now is called low pathogenic avian influenza, which means that the birds are sick, but you don’t see a whole lot of clinical signs. It’s not like when you have a highly pathogenic outbreak and the birds start dying off literally within hours. So, it’s a low pathogenic outbreak, but of a zoonotic disease. Two things we have to be very careful of; one, that we don’t give it a chance to mutate to highly pathogenic strain and two, that is does not transfer. So, the immediate exercise has been to try to contain the virus. So what does this mean for the thriving poultry industry in Belize? Well according to one of the farmers we spoke to, in his own professional view, he said we could be seeing a shortage of chicken in the very near future and a slight spike in the price of your local poultry products.