Despite concerns over the spread of avian flu, poultry production should not be seen as a particularly vulnerable sector of global food production.

That was the message from Barry O’Neil, deputy director general of MAF Biosecurity New Zealand and president of the World Organisation for Animal Health OIE, when he addressed key players in the livestock industry in London last week.

“I have just come back from China, where I visited one processor that was slaughtering 60m birds a year, and all its production was inside, to maintain biosecurity. There are a number of countries which are increasing this sort of poultry production quite significantly.

“But there are also a number of countries with backyard production, which is involved with the spread of avian influenza. The OIE supports the use of vaccine, and while that is more difficult where backyard production is involved, there are improvements being made. Look at Thailand, where avian influenza has been controlled and eradicated. I think there are ways to deal with it.

“The fact is that poultry is a very efficient processor of grain to meat, so there are some very significant pluses from this sector.”

* This is the seventh article in a special FWi mini-series profiling OIE president Barry O’Brien’s speech in London on Tuesday 20 May 2008.

Next article: GM crops needed to feed world’s livestock appears Thursday 5 June.

See: Cost and responsibility sharing roadshow.