2,000 chickens dead in Trinidad

Bird flu considered

The health minister of Trinidad promised an investigation Monday after 2,000 chickens died at several farms in eastern Trinidad, but said he doubted the cause was bird flu.

The birds have been dying since last Thursday in half a dozen large farms around Cumuto, 25 miles east of the capital, Port-of-Spain, said a farmer who did not want to be identified because he was worried of losing contracts with customers.

It was unknown if the birds died from the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu that has already killed more than 70 people in East Asia since 2003.

“I don’t want to alarm the country,” said Trinidad’s Health Minister John Rahael. “An immediate investigation will be launched to determine the cause of death of the birds, but I don’t think it’s bird flu.”

No matter how the chickens died, consumers in the Cayman Islands need not worry about contaminated meat.

None of the three supermarkets in Cayman imports chickens from Trinidad.

Kirk Supermarket, Hurley’s Marketplace and Foster’s Food Fair all buy their chickens from the US and Jamaica.

Renrick Christian, manager at Kirk, explained that the store imports mainly processed parts from the US and whole processed birds from Jamaica.

The USDA inspects all chickens that are exported from the US, he added.

Chris Butcher, meat manager at Hurley’s, explained that 99 per cent of the chickens sold at the supermarket come from the US, with the rest whole processed chickens from Jamaica.

‘As for what’s happening in Trinidad, there wouldn’t be anything to worry about here. The outbreak in Trinidad should not affect the Cayman Islands in any way,’ he said.

Foster’s marketing supervisor Kevin Loughery explained that the majority of chickens sold at the supermarkets come from the US.

‘Foster’s Food Fair does not import any chickens from Trinidad. Ninety-nine per cent of our poultry comes from the US and that’s all of our fresh and the majority of our frozen products,’ he said.

Mr. Loughery added that all the chickens that they sell have undergone inspections.

‘All chickens that Foster’s sells are either inspected by the USDA or government health officers in Jamaica. There is no issue with Foster’s Food Fair and Trinidad at all,’ he said.

Back in Trinidad an Associated Press reporter saw the dozens of dead chickens scattered around the fields. Farmers said they had buried hundreds of dead chickens in nearby fields.

Farmers were trying to round up sick chickens to keep them in quarantine away from the rest of their flocks. Those chickens have swollen stomachs, watery eyes, a lack of appetite and greyish blue skin, farmers said.

Agriculture Minister Jarett Narine did not return calls for comment, and it was not immediately possible to determine when authorities would be able to identify what killed the birds.

In October, a mild strain of bird flu that poses no threat to humans was discovered in chickens in Colombia. Colombian authorities carried out 18,000 tests on chickens at more than 200 farms across the Andean nation and said they haven’t detected any new cases.

Experts worry that the lethal H5N1 bird flu virus sweeping through bird flocks in Asia and pockets of eastern Europe could mutate into a human flu that could kill millions.