Former Agri Minister raps Govt for ducking duck virus info

T&T poultry ban

In light of the recent ban by Trinidad and Tobago on all poultry meat from Guyana as a result of Duck Viral Hepatitis (DVH) concerns, former Agriculture Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy lashed out at the coalition Government for not informing the country about the virus.

Dr Leslie Ramsammy

A memo dated May 31, 2019, and signed by the twin-island Republic’s Senior Veterinary Officer, informed its Customs and Excise Division of the ban.
“As instructed by the Chief Veterinary Officer Animal Health Sub-Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries in accordance with the Animals [Diseases and Importation] Act Chap 67:02, please be informed that with immediate effect all and any raw and cooked poultry meat from Guyana is banned from entry into Trinidad and Tobago until further notice. Upon arrival at ports of entry, such items are, therefore, to be seized for destruction,” the memo stated.
T&T’s Agriculture Minister, Clarence Rambharat confirmed the ban and revealed that Guyana advised them of the presence of Duck Viral Hepatitis in a part of the country.
“As a precaution, the Ministry’s Chief Veterinary Office has notified the Customs and Excise Division of an immediate ban on raw and cooked poultry originating from Guyana. While Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago do not trade with each other in poultry, the ban is precautionary and targets passengers coming into Trinidad and Tobago with raw or cooked poultry in their possession. The ban is instituted because Guyana has advised of the existence of duck virus hepatitis in a part of Guyana,” a LoopTT report quoted the Minister as saying.
The report also indicated that the virus is not present in the twin-island Republic.
However, in a statement on Saturday, Dr Ramsammy took the Guyana Government to task over its handling of the matter. He pointed to the fact that not only did it fail to inform the populace of the DVH outbreak, but it was also unaware of the ban by its Caribbean neighbour.
When contacted on the ban on Friday, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder told Guyana Times that he is currently out of the country and has not been appraised of the situation before he ended the call citing long distance charges being applied to his phone.
According to Ramsammy, the coalition was equally surprised and caught off-guard with the ban.
“At the time of the announcement, Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture was, as usual, out of the jurisdiction – he was out of the country this time. He always seems to be somewhere else when agriculture faces a threat… There is no indication that anyone in the David Granger-led APNU/AFC Cabinet knew anything about the ban. It appears they were as shocked as ordinary Guyanese citizens that Trinidad and Tobago announced the ban,” Dr Ramsammy noted.
The former Agriculture Minister explained that Trinidad’s action could not have been arbitrary. He noted that it is practice for Government officials from a country to inform relevant authorities in another country about its intention to take certain actions because of issues coming out of that country.
“Was this protocol followed? Trinidad and Tobago banned poultry products from Guyana because of reports of DVH in Guyana. On May 19th, the Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA) announced [the] closure of their hatchery because of problems encountered; they never stated what the problems were. But DVH is a reportable animal disease and, I suspect, under the World Health Organisation’s International Health Regulations (IHR) rules, Guyana had to notify the international authorities of the presence of DVH. Trinidad and Tobago might have become aware through that reporting,” he posited.
While commending the Guyanese authorities for informing international authorities, in accordance with the IHR’s rules, that it identified incidences of DVH, an infection with a high mortality rate in poultry animals, Ramsammy questioned by the same was not done in house.
“The Ministry of Agriculture and the Government of Guyana must be commended for adhering to the rules, as dictated in the IHR, if they did it… So Trinidad and Tobago was not acting arbitrarily and without cause. Why then, the surprise by our Government? Why then, no one seems to know about the problem? Did the Minister of Agriculture pay no attention and did he fail to inform his Cabinet colleagues?”
According to Dr Ramsammy, the surprise expressed by Government Ministers demonstrate a Government that is aloof and not in control. He went on to point out that the Guyanese people should not be finding out about this matter only after Trinidad and Tobago banned poultry products from Guyana.
“If Guyana did inform the international bodies about the presence of this deadly virus in Guyana’s duck population, the Government should have similarly made a public pronouncement in Guyana. Public Health Advisory should have been prepared for the population and, specifically for farmers.”
The former Minister contended that while the human population might not have been under severe threat from the virus, there was an economic consequence for farmers since the presence of DVH in ducks had the potential to wipe out the total poultry industry.
Ramsammy noted that the Government should have already indicated to the nation what actions it had taken and continues to take to make Guyana free of the DVH.
“The story of the T&T ban, the story of the non-awareness of the relevant Government Ministers, add to the overall perception that APNU/AFC is always many steps behind, always caught by surprise, always aloof. It is highly irresponsible that not a single Minister was aware of the presence of DVH and of the consequences. It is an abrogation of duty and an example of total neglect that the Minister of Agriculture was not leading the response, much less aware of the problem. This Government always is MIA. This is why the December 21st No-Confidence Motion happened,” he asserted.