Youssef Fayad, head of al-Mari, a village in southern Lebanon, keeps a close eye on the chickens on his farm, which is adjacent to the Israeli border, for fear that the bird flu H5N1 will spread from Israeli fields to his flock.
According to Fayad, no cases of the bird flu have been reported in southern Lebanon yet, but poultry breeders are concerned about possible virus transmission by air, migrating birds, or wild animals that frequently cross the border between Lebanon and Israel.
“We have taken all required preventive measures, along with poultry farm owners, health, environmental, and agricultural authorities in southern Lebanon, to fend off this virus from our areas,” he said.
Following the discovery of increased chicken mortality and the investigation of samples testing the birds, the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture announced an outbreak of the bird flu in poultry farms near the border with Lebanon in December 2021.
Dozens of farms in northern Israel were closed following the death of thousands of chickens and migrating birds, according to media reports.
According to Ismail Amin, a director-general from a Ministry of Agriculture office in southern Lebanon, his ministry has emphasized the importance of not hunting or touching migratory birds found in the fields, calling for carefully monitoring water ponds which serve as a temporary stopover for migratory birds crossing Lebanon’s airspace.
“We’ve requested mayors and poultry farmers to report immediately any odd symptoms affecting birds, particularly chickens,” he said, adding Lebanon is closely monitoring the bird flu outbreaks in neighboring countries.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Ministry of Agriculture has asked farm owners to follow a set of guidelines, including preventing migratory birds from approaching farms, reporting any influenza symptoms on birds and farm workers, and promptly having infected birds transferred to the ministry’s animal health laboratory.
The H5N1 virus affects most types of domestic and wild birds, and even pigs, and can be transmitted to humans from infected birds, according to veterinarian Adham Jabr.
The likelihood of the virus spreading from Israel to Lebanon raises significant concerns about not only people’s health and the safety of birds, but also farmers’ livelihoods.
Lebanon’s poultry sector has already been hit by the economic crisis, said Gerges Hanna, owner of a poultry farm in the south, adding the tragic reality of the bird flu virus may hit harder the sector and affect the livelihoods of thousands of families, in addition to having serious consequences for the environment and food security.
Furthermore, people with limited income in Lebanon may lose an important source of protein, as chicken is considered one of the most affordable foods during the current economic crisis, as the price of red meat has soared to 400,000 Lebanese pounds (13 U.S. dollars) per kg while a kg of chicken only sells at 150,000 pounds, according to Hassan Ghayyad, head of the poultry farm owners’ association in southern Lebanon.
According to the Agriculture Ministry, Lebanon has more than 2,000 chicken farms that produce about 150,000 tons of white meat.
In addition, the sector provides up to 30,000 jobs for Lebanese citizens and displaced Syrians.