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Bangladesh Anthrax Outbreak Hits Beef Industry

27 September 2010

BANGLADESH - Bangladesh's government says it has gone onto a war footing to combat a major outbreak of anthrax that has infected hundreds of people and threatens to wreak havoc on the country's beef industry.

Anthrax does not spread directly from one infected human or animal to another, but is spread through spores. Humans can contract anthrax from handling diseased animals or eating infected meat, reports AFP.

A high-level government committee tasked with containing the outbreak before the mid-November Muslim festival of Eid al-Azha, traditionally celebrated with the mass slaughter of animals, has been formed.

"We are launching a major counter-attack on the outbreak to bring it under control before Eid al-Azha. We will vaccinate all at-risk cattle," livestock minister Abdul Latif Biswas, who is head of the committee, said. He called on the public not to panic, saying eating beef was safe.

Anthrax is a potentially lethal bacterium that exists naturally in the soil and commonly infects livestock which ingest or inhale its spores while grazing.

More than 600 people have been infected by anthrax as it spreads further from its source in Bangladesh's dairy belt, with 12 districts confirming outbreaks in humans and cattle.

Hundreds of cows have been infected and scores have died but no humans have perished as all reported infections are cutaneous, or skin, anthrax, which causes wound-like lesions but is not fatal if treated properly.

However, last week thousands of shops selling beef in the capital Dhaka were deserted as panicked consumers turned their backs on red meat -- with sales down more than 90 percent since the outbreak began mid-August.

"We used to slaughter 5,000 cows a day in Dhaka," the head of the country's meat traders' association Rabiul Alam told AFP.

But last Thursday, for instance, "we slaughtered less than 100 cows," he said.

"The price of beef has dropped significantly but still no one is buying -- there is no demand for beef now," he said.

Alam said unless the outbreak was brought under control and the public's confidence in beef restored ahead of Eid-al Azha, it could seriously damage the cattle industry, which contributes about five percent to gross domestic product.

Bangladesh's export-orientated leather processing industry has also been hard hit by the anthrax outbreak, with many tanneries sitting idle as the sharp fall in the number of cattle slaughtered has limited the supply of hides.

Bangladesh exported leather and leather goods worth 32 billion taka (460 million dollars) last year, according to the export promotion bureau.

The bulk of exports are of processed leather to shoe factories in countries such as Spain and China.

Last year, 70 per cent of cow hides exported came from cattle slaughtered during Eid-al Fitr and Eid-al Azha, said Rashid Bhuiyan, chairman of the Bangladesh Leather Industry Association.

"As anthrax panic hit before Eid al-Fitr (which fell on September 11) we only got a quarter of the skins we would normally get -- and we worry it will be the same for Eid-al Azha," he said.

The spread of the outbreak has been fuelled by farmers slaughtering diseased cows then selling the meat, officials said.

TheCattleSite News Desk



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