Authors: Partha Pratim Mitra and Prakash Sharma*
Post 2003-04 bird flu outbreak, migratory birds have become the soft target for spreading of avian influenza or contiguous diseases. The geneses of this thought emerge from the year 1996, which continuous to re-emerged thereafter on regular basis and spread from Asia to Europe and Africa, resulting in several hundred human deaths. The occurrence of avian influenza ((H5N1, H5N2, H5N8, H7N8, H7N9 etc.)has captured global attention too. There are studies that suggest, “avian influenza may be the most likely candidate for the next influenza pandemic”. At the same time, several scientific research claim that migratory birds are not always liable for spreading avian flu among local birds and domestic birds.
Robert Boardman of Dalhousie University opines “birds are also vulnerable and may spread disease, as in the effects in the early 2000s of the adenovirus on the Alaskan oldsquaw or long-tailed duck and deaths of kakapo parrots on some New Zealand islands resulting from soil bacteria”. Birds too like other species compete for resources. Nevertheless, there are factors other than migratory birdsthat can be associated for the spread, for instance the H5N1 avian flu virus in Japan, China, Indonesia and other countries in 2005–2006 had analogous connection with the environmental factors. Others factors can be the anthropogenic changes in land use and agriculture, movement of people, etc.
Talking about the global attention, perhaps the major concern emerges when avian outbreak affects several species of food producing birds, for e.g. chickens, turkeys, quails, guinea fowl, etc. resulting in “global public health concern”. The present article examines the current international as well as national laws governing the arena of migratory birds and their affect on food producing birds and poultry products.
Role of the World Organisation for Animal Health
The World Organisation for Animal Health, formerly the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) is an intergovernmental organization coordinating, supporting and promoting animal disease control. It is recognized as a reference organisation by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and had a total of 182 member states. The OIE’s objectives is to promote transparency and understanding of the “global animal disease situation” to protect “public health, and to ensure the safety of world trade in animals and animal products”. “The science-based standards, guidelines and recommendations issued by the OIE are designated as the international reference in dealing with avian influenza”.
Over the years, OIE has strengthened international coordination and cooperation in the control of avian influenza through joint collaboration with other global organization, namely the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). These organizations exchange follow-up information on three priorities areas including the global zoonotic influenza situation.
India is a member country of the OIE, and abides by the International Animal Health Code (Code). The Code provides standards for the improvement of animal health and welfare and veterinary public health worldwide, including through standards for safe international trade in terrestrial animals (mammals, reptiles, birds and bees) and their products. Interestingly, the Code demands that veterinary authorities of importing and exporting countries to provide for early detection, reporting and control agents that are pathogenic to animals or humans, and to prevent their transfer via international trade in animals and animal products.
Whereas People’s Republic of China has failed to provide correct information and take necessary measures to curb the spread of deadly COVID-19 to the world. India out rightly informed that there was no risk of coronavirus spreading through migratory birds. Without going into the intent, no doubt there was lack of performance of legitimate duty on part of People’s Republic of China (and it is a matter of further revelations), however the pertinent concern is: doesn’t COVID-19 experience undermines OIE’s importance?
Impact over poultry farming in India
India’s poultry farming industry operates under the unhygienic conditions and become common victim at the time of outbreak of avian flu. Poultry is one of the fastest growing sectors in India, being world’s 5th largest egg producer and 18th largest producer of broilers. Economic losses due to infectious and contagious diseases of animals could be enormous besides posses serious threat to the public.
The Indian Constitution deals with protection of animals from diseases under Entry 15 (State List) relating to animal within the territory of state and Entry 29 (Concurrent List) about moving animals extending from one state to another state. Again Entry 29 (Concurrent List) is more widely applicable to animals including men and plants. The same item was also under ‘Provincial Legislature List’ of the Government of India Act, 1935 under Entry 20 with wider subject. However, neither the Centre nor many State governments do have adequate law to regulate these sectors. Only two States in India have enacted statutes concerning poultry production, namely Punjab Poultry Production Act, 2016 (apart from the Punjab Livestock and Bird Diseases Act, 1948) and Gujarat Poultry Farm Registration and Regulatory Authority Act, 2007.
In the absence of any specific legislation, and Central regulation to deal with the issue of disease in poultry related birds and products, theLaw Commission of India has recommended to government of India in its 269th Report for making of rules for protection of hens and broiler chickens according to section 38 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. Besides, in Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, section 33A was inserted after the Amendment Act of 1991,which gives legal obligation to Chief Wildlife Warden to take action for immunization of cattle in or within 5 km of sanctuary. Government through notification of byelaws is required to prescribe the measures of such immunization process. But till date no regulation has been framed in this regard.
Legislative initiatives to combat with the situation
Certain earlier legislations were present to control diseases of animals and birds. Currently, two laws, the Destructive Insects and Pests Act, 1914, and the Livestock Importation Act, 1898, regulate the import and export of plants and animals with a view to control pests and diseases. Under these laws, the authorities are required to ensure that infectious diseases and pests do not cause widespread damage to the environment, crops, agricultural produce and human beings, i.e. the agricultural biosecurity of a country. Both the laws (the Act of 1914 and the Act, 1898) has been proposed to be repealed and replaced by the Agricultural Biosecurity Bill, 2013.The Bill aimed to establish an “integrated national biosecurity system covering plant, animal and marine issues to combat threats of bio- terrorism from pests and weeds”.
Apart from this, the Insecticides Act, 1968 was passed to regulate manufacture, sale, transport, import, distribution and use of insecticides with a view to prevent risk to human beings as well as animals. The Act of 1968 constituted the ‘Central Insecticide Board’ to register insecticides after thorough examination for safety and efficacy. Further, the Customs Act, 1962 empowers the Central Government to prohibit or regulate the import or export of goods of any specified description for the purpose of, inter alia, protection of human, animal or plant life or health. The Prevention and Control of Infectious and Contagious Diseases in Animals Act, 2009was passed by Indian Parliament after repealing two old statutes the Dourine Act, 1910 and the Glanders and Farcy Act, 1899. The Act of 2009 seeks to provide prevention, control and eradication of infectious and contagious diseases affecting animals for prevention of outbreak or spreading of such diseases from one State to another. The Act of 2009deals with the control of scheduled diseases and a Schedule of the statute mentioned several types of infectious and contagious diseases.
The present structure of multilateral organizational control is faulty. This has been revealed harshly by the COVID-19 experience. There are gaps in the existing enforcement mechanisms, which do as much of damage to the health of birds as it does to the other living beings on earth. Of course, the spreading of infectious diseases must be prevented and strict measures should be adopted under contrasting levels of governance. However, given the intricacies involved it is perhaps suggested that nation-states must sit together and construct an international policy on conservation efforts concerning migratory birds during emergence of unscientifically drawn potential role of migratory birds in the dispersal of the viruses. To this extend, all efforts must be made towards timely dissemination of information which is crucial to containing outbreaks.
* Prakash Sharma, Assistant Professor, VSLLS, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi.