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Avian influenza (AI) is spiralling out of control in Asia. So also is the spin being put to the disease. There was the spectacle of Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his entire cabinet feasting on a smorgasbord of chicken to ease public concern over the AI outbreak. According to AFP, the poultry feast came from Bangkok's best-known restaurants, and the event was hatched by chicken exporters, who vowed to financially compensate anyone who died from eating poultry products. Three days later, Thailand confirmed its first AI case...

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- Bird Flu Outbreak

Avian influenza (ai) is spiralling out of control in Asia. So also is the spin being put to the disease.

There was the spectacle of Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his entire cabinet feasting on a smorgasbord of chicken to ease public concern over the ai outbreak. According to afp, the poultry feast came from Bangkok's best-known restaurants, and the event was hatched by chicken exporters, who vowed to financially compensate anyone who died from eating poultry products. Three days later, Thailand confirmed its first ai case.

Then there was the advertisement that appeared on January 31, 2004 in the New Delhi edition of The Indian Express sponsored by the National Egg Co-ordination Committee (necc) and the Poultry Development and Promotion Council. Coming as it does in the wake of falling poultry sales all over India, the ad is more about how safe it is to keep eating factory-farmed chicken in India. In addition, it makes a number of erroneous claims. For one, the ad claims that ai "is not a disease of human beings." This is blatantly untrue, as the case of sibling deaths in Hanoi, Vietnam, proves (see: 'Out of the coop'). For another, it claims the disease "is not taken seriously in the developed countries". What about Japan, currently seriously affected? Why has the us banned poutry exports from the affected countries? For fun, or to further India-us relations?

Further, the ad trumpets the fact that India's disease surveillance, diagnosis and monitoring infrastructure is "world class". Apart from the fact that our quarantine department is manned by a miniscule staff of 260, of which only a quarter are technically qualified, the ad resorts to two strange tactics to prove this point. First, blatant exaggeration: "Vietnam's poultry industry is 50 years behind India -- it is a totally backyard poultry. The same is true of neighbouring countries and most of Asia." Second, its praise of the Venkateshwara Hatcheries Poultry Diagnosti and Research Centre (vh) at Pune.

Indeed, vh is Asia's largest poultry group. Its profits before tax for the financial year 2002-03 was Rs 933 lakh; this has risen to Rs 1,875 lakh by the third quarter of this financial year. But the point is, the entity that controls vh is also the one that has founded necc, one of the ad's sponsors. This compromises the ad's objectivity. Has this ad really been "issued in the public interest"? Does it not mislead the public?

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