COA to re-investigate meetings on avian flu amid cover-up charges


TAIPEI–The Council of Agriculture (COA) said Sunday it will review earlier meetings called to discuss last December’s avian flu outbreak in central Taiwan amid allegations of a cover-up by authorities.

The COA is an executive agency which will examine whether its sub- agencies abided by the law following the outbreak, said COA Minister Chen Bao-ji.

COA officials will review minutes from meetings held by the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, under the COA, to determine whether the H5N2 outbreak in Fangyuan, Changhua County, was or was not highly pathogenic, Chen added.

On March 3, the bureau confirmed that an outbreak of bird flu had occurred in Changhua, as first reported by amateur director Li Hui-ren, who created a video documentary to expose the epidemic as the country’s first highly infectious bird flu case.

The bureau’s handling of the issue was considered controversial after the administrative process was publicly revealed. Several groups and individuals, including Li, Lai Shiow-suey, a veterinary medicine professor emeritus at National Taiwan University (NTU) and the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan, questioned the COA’s actions, which delayed releasing news of the epidemic.

These groups also suspected that the administration covered up similar outbreaks during the past two to four years.

The bureau was found to have submitted a notice to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in January saying the outbreak was not highly infectious. However, in its second report to the world body, it said the same outbreak was highly virulent.

Chen, an expert in the study of birds, said he decided to announce that the epidemic in Changhua was highly infectious after meetings of experts on Feb. 1 and March 1 reached that conclusion.

As to whether an evaluation on the nature of the outbreak was flawed, Chen said the current investigation will need 10 more days before he can answer that question.

Meanwhile, Hu Hsing-hua, vice minister of the COA, also said that if necessary a COA special panel would review minutes from meetings from the time other outbreaks occurred more than two years ago.

The epidemic has so far resulted in over 75,000 chickens being culled in Tainan, southern Taiwan and in Changhua.