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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Emergency steps target bird flu

Penalties for failing to report


Staff writer

The government unveiled a package of emergency measures Tuesday aimed at containing the spread of bird flu, including plans to crack down on farmers who fail to disclose evidence their birds are infected.

News photo
Volunteers clean up droppings in a chicken house at Asada Nosan Funai Farm in Tanba, Kyoto Prefecture, where bird flu was detected in late February. PHOTO COURTESY OF KYOTO PREFECTURE

Under a legal amendment proposed in the package, poultry farmers who fail to issue proper reports on suspected cases of the highly contagious disease would face stiffer fines or prison terms.

The measures include financial aid for farmers affected by emergency restrictions on shipments of chicken meat and eggs in areas surrounding chicken farms hit by bird flu. The amount of this aid through the end of the current fiscal year, which runs through March 31, will total 105 million yen.

The government will draw up a bill to revise the Domestic Animal Infectious Diseases Control Law to institutionalize compensation for farmers who follow shipping restriction orders, officials said.

Related bills are to be submitted to the current Diet session, which ends in June, the officials said.

"We have compiled comprehensive measures, including legislation and budget allocations," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told his regularly scheduled news conference.

Under the current Domestic Animal Infectious Disease Control Law, a farmer who fails to properly report a suspected outbreak of bird flu can be punished by either a fine of up to 500,000 yen or a prison term of up to one year.

No specifics have been provided on the extent to which the maximum fine or prison term will be increased.

A major chicken farm operator was heavily criticized for failing to report that thousands of chickens kept at one of its farms in Kyoto Prefecture were dying. The firm's chairman and his wife were found hanged earlier this month in suspected suicides.

"To dispel people's anxiety over food, the provision of correct information is necessary, too," Fukuda said.

The package also states that:

The government will dispatch Self-Defense Forces units to help local governments hit by outbreaks of bird flu, if so requested.

The government will offer subsidies to cover half of the cost incurred by chicken farmers who modify their poultry houses to make them windowless.

The government will offer special tax grants to local governments handling bird flu outbreaks. These grants will total 420 million yen in the current fiscal year.

The government may stock anti-influenza medicines that are considered effective in dealing with a new type of virus that could emerge through mutation of the bird flu virus.

The farm ministry will set up a special study team to determine the infection routes of the disease.

The package was adopted at a meeting Tuesday morning of 12 Cabinet members involved in the matter.



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