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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

China Confirms Death of Poultry Worker Due to Avian Influenza H5N1

Posted to the IUF website 17-Nov-2005

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The Chinese government has officially confirmed the first death of a commercial poultry worker, a woman in the eastern province of Anhui, as a result of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza. This death must serve as a warning to the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), whose current efforts to avert a global pandemic in humans do not recognize H5N1 as an occupational hazard and ignore the core issue of agricultural workers' health and safety rights in arresting the spread of the virus.

The New Strategic Action Recommendations on Avian Influenza (H5N1) released by the WHO's Communicable Disease Surveillance and
Response (CSR) on 2 September 2005 state that ´┐ŻNo case has yet been detected among workers in the commercial poultry sector." The statement was not accurate at the time of publication. While there have been few attempts at determining the extent of exposure among workers, public health authorities had already detected cases of exposure to H5N1 among poultry workers in India and Indonesia. But as a result, the WHO has no measures to propose to national governments to protect agricultural and processing workers.

The IUF is therefore again calling on these international agencies to develop national and international action plans and guidelines to defend public health based on the specific needs of the food and agricultural workers who are in the frontline of exposure to the virus. These organizations must also work jointly with the ILO to develop programs that address the multiple economic, social and health impacts of the H5N1 crisis on food and agricultural workers.

As the virus continues to spread, despite the culling of tens of millions of birds, the impact on employment is certain to worsen. Poultry sales have dropped dramatically in Europe, prompting companies to terminate workers on temporary contracts in a sector where jobs are already precarious. As European producers accumulate a growing mountain of frozen chickens, there will also be a temptation to export the crisis by dumping cut-rate products on developing countries whose domestic poultry sectors have already been hard hit by low-cost exports.

The IUF has produced a Briefing Paper on Avian Influenza (H5N1) and Agricultural Workers. It can be downloaded (in pdf format) by clicking here. We encourage trade unions everywhere to distribute it as widely as possible and to use it in approaching national governments and public health authorities.