China Says Flu Medicine Not for Birds
Washington Post | June 21, 2005
By Alan Sipress
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- China's agriculture ministry denied Tuesday that the government had encouraged farmers to use a human influenza drug to treat bird flu in poultry, a practice that researchers say has made the drug ineffective in fighting outbreaks in people.
In a prepared statement, the ministry said China's strategy for addressing avian influenza in chickens centered on the use of a preventive vaccination rather than anti-viral drugs.
These remarks came in response to an article published Saturday in The Washington Post reporting that Chinese farmers, with the encouragement of officials, had widely used the drug, amantadine, in violation of international livestock guidelines. Citing animal health experts, the Post had reported that the production and sale of the drug for treating livestock had been approved by Chinese agriculture officials and that local government veterinary stations instructed farmers how to use it.
"This is groundless and isn't in accordance with the truth," the ministry statement said."Amantadine is an anti-virus medicine for humans," it added. "The Chinese government has never permitted farmers to use amantadine to treat bird flu or other virus-related disease."
The agriculture ministry said the government has approved the production of three highly effective vaccines to prevent poultry from catching bird flu and distributed them to farmers, in some cases for free and in others at a 50 percent discount. The vaccines are effective for at least six months, the statement said.
In a front-page article Tuesday, the government-run China Daily acknowledged that farmers had used amantadine in poultry, reporting that the agriculture ministry planned to send inspection teams across the country to halt the practice. "We'll take measures soon to curb the action," ministry veterinary official Xu Shixin was quoted as saying.
He also told the newspaper that the government had never allowed farmers to use amantadine.
Earlier this week, officials from both the World Health Organization and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization raised concerns with the Chinese government about the reported use of the drug, according to U.N. officials. Henk Bekedam, WHO's top representative in China, discussed the matter in greater detail Tuesday during a meeting with senior Chinese health officials, an agency spokesman said.
"He was assured that the Ministry of Health is taking this matter very seriously and they will be in close contact with the Ministry of Agriculture about what's been going on and will get more details and specifics on what is being done to discontinue this practice," said Roy Wadia, spokesman for WHO in China.
Since the beginning of last year, the highly lethal bird flu virus has devastated poultry in nine East Asian countries and infected more than 100 people, killing at least 54. International health experts have warned that the virus could undergo genetic change and spawn a global pandemic.
UN asks China for details about human drug use on poultry
The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation is seeking clarification from China over a report it is using a human anti-flu drug on poultry.
The Washington Post reported that Chinese farmers, with government encouragement, have widely used the drug amantadine to combat bird flu in poultry since the 1990s.
Experts fear, if the story is accurate, the farmers are rendering the human vaccine useless.
Amantadine is one of only a handful of medications for treating human influenza and one of the most common.
The World Health Organisation's China representative, Doctor Henk Bekedam, says the most effective method of eradicating the flu from poultry is through culling infected birds
The FAO's Beijing office said it was still awaiting information from China's Ministry of Agriculture about how the drug was administered and in what quantities.