H5N1 outbreak: China bans imports of Malaysia’s bird’s nest products

H5N1 outbreak: China bans imports of Malaysia’s bird’s nest products
Two styles of cleaned bird's nest, Yan Zhan (left) and Su Zhan (right) await repacking at a processing plant in Kuala Lumpur, Feb 17, 2015. Photo: Reuters

H5N1 outbreak: China bans imports of Malaysia’s bird’s nest products

KUALA LUMPUR — China has imposed a temporary restriction on imports of bird’s nest products from Malaysia, following an outbreak of the highly-contagious H5N1 avian flu in the east coast state of Kelantan.

The ban prompted Malaysia’s Veterinary Services Department (VSD) to send letters to the Chinese authorities explaining the situation and measures currently taken to curb the spread of the pathogenic virus.

“We explained that the number of chickens and ducks in Kelantan only comprised 0.5 per cent of the total number of poultry nationwide ... The production of commercial eggs is fully run outside of Kelantan,” the VSD said in a statement on Sunday.

“The sources of raw clean edible bird’s nest, which are meant for export, are from swiftlet nests located outside of Kelantan. The supply can be traced through a system adopted by the department.” 

Additionally, processing plants also used heat treatment which met the requirements set by China during times of disease — which was to heat the bird’s nest products at temperatures of up to 70°C for 3.5 seconds.

Last week, Kelantan declared the H5N1 bird flu outbreak a “state disaster” after it spread to two more districts despite attempts by the authorities to contain the virus.

It was first detected on Feb 26 among a few free-range chickens. The virus resurfaced in the country after an absence of a decade.

The VSD had previously said it believed the epidemic detected in Kelantan could have started from cockfighting activities involving roosters from neighbouring countries, citing similarities between the current cases and those in 2004.

The H5N1 strain was first detected in Kampung Pulau Tebu in the state capital of Kota Bharu, before it spread to the five villages nearby. 

A second cluster of the bird flu strain had also been detected in three villages at Pasir Mas, a district 20km from Kota Bharu.

Despite taking immediate measures to check the spread of the virus, including setting up road blocks to prevent chickens from being smuggled out of the state’s borders and culling all types of fowl, the bird flu spread to two other districts: Pasir Puteh and Bachok. 

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Agriculture and Agro-based Ministry secretary-general and the VSD deputy director-general will make a visit to China to explain the current measures taken by the authorities to combat the spread of the virus. 

“Through this working visit, we hope China will lift the temporary restriction and allow the importation of the bird’s nest in China,” the VSD said.

Malaysia is one of the major countries that China import bird’s nest from. Last year, Kuala Lumpur exported 20.15 metric tonnes of bird’s nest, worth RM134.13 million (S$42.3 million), to Beijing. AGENCIES