Sunday, October 09, 2005

An Ounce of Prevention

According to today’s New York Times, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is having difficulty raising $100 million from member states to pay for its efforts to slow the spread of avian flu in Asia. Vietnam’s attempts to address the avian flu epidemic have been cut back because insufficient funds are available to compensate farmers whose stocks of chickens are destroyed to prevent the spread of the disease. In Indonesia, the government has begun vaccinating rather than destroying chickens for the same reason. Although cheaper than culling infected flocks, this policy carries the risk of hastening mutations in the disease that might increase its virulence.

The failure of member states to fully fund FAO initiatives is particularly disturbing given the recent news that (1) the Bush Administration is now poised to spend billions of dollars to address the threat of avian flu spreading among humans in the United States and (2) some form of avian flu (although possibly not the Asian strain) has now been reported in Turkey and Romania. Helping the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization slow the spread of avian flu in Asia would be a wise investment for the United States.