As governments in North America and Europe grow increasingly worried about the possibility of a global epidemic of bird flu, one crucial player is China. Yet for now, much of what the country is doing to manage a possible epidemic is a mystery.
China is not only the world’s most populous nation, but also the world’s biggest poultry producer. It has a quarter of the world’s chickens, two-thirds of the world’s domesticated ducks and almost nine-tenths of the world’s domesticated geese, statistics from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization show.
The first known case of the A(H5N1) strain of avian influenza was found in 1996 in a goose in China.
While the Beijing authorities insist that no poultry in the country has the disease now, Hong Kong University scientists who have studied the genetic evolution of the virus wrote in Nature in July that infected migratory birds in western China appeared to have contracted the disease in southern China; the virus has since spread from western China to East Asia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Romania.