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06RABAT367 2006-03-01 16:40:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Rabat
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1. (U) Summary: Although no cases of Avian Influenza have
been detected in Morocco, the malady has many Moroccans
quaking in their boots. The issue regularly dominates front
page news, rumors of outbreaks circulate at lightening
speed, and consumption of chicken has plummeted, putting the
$1.4 billion industry in jeopardy. The GOM has engaged in a
vigorous public information campaign to reassure the public
that it has the issue well in hand. Pictures of the Prime
Minister eating chicken on television and in the newspapers
have boosted demand and spared the industry further damage.
Agriculture officials are taking training in the United
States to strengthen the Ministry's diagnostic skills, and
in spite of a continued high state of alert among the
Moroccan population, Embassy continues to have confidence in
the GOM's preparedness. End Summary.

2. (U) Fears of an avian flu outbreak are keeping newspapers
busy and the government running hard to counter rumors with
an extensive public information campaign. Prosecutors
opened an investigation on Feb. 27 against seven people
accused of spreading tales of avian flu infection at a
hospital in Rabat. If the charges are proven true, the
perpetrators risk five years of prison.


Chicken: Cheep Cheep


3. (U) The poultry industry - which generates $1.4 billion
annually and employs 230,000 people - has been hit hard,
losing $60 million since the start of the pandemic. In a
move meant to reassure the public about the safety of eating
chicken, Prime Minister Jettou paid a highly-publicized
visit Feb. 22 to a poultry farm 25 miles north of Rabat,
during which he ate chicken on camera and repeatedly
insisted that the government had done its homework on the
disease. Jettou paid a similar media-heavy visit to an
industrial abattoir 15 miles south of Casablanca on Feb. 25.

4. (U) The government's campaign appears to be bearing
fruit. After initially plummeting to less than half its
normal value, the price of chicken has steadily climbed back
up to around $1 per kilo, still 30 percent below average but
an improvement from the 65 cents per kilo it was attracting
weeks before.


Suspension of Imports


5. (U) Morocco has banned the importation of all poultry
products from avian flu-infected countries, as well as
domestic birds from anywhere in the world. On Feb. 27 the
GOM mandated indoor confinement of poultry on farms located
within two miles of wetlands sites used by migratory birds,
and began vaccinating non-confinable birds like ostrich,
duck and pheasant.


Half a Million Potential Vectors


6. (U) At the nexus of Europe and Africa, Morocco lies in
the path of nearly 200 species of migrating birds that pass
through the territory twice a year on their way north and
south between the two continents. An estimated 500,000
migratory birds will pass through Morocco during the next
two months.

7. (U) To counter this threat, surveillance teams from the
Department of Water and Forests are patrolling 44 wetland
areas frequented by migratory birds, looking for unexplained
deaths or other abnormalities. In early February, 300
egrets were found dead at a lake in central Morocco,
prompting a deluge of fearful press. Authorities tested the
birds and found no evidence of infection. Two Ministry of
Agriculture officials are currently in Aims, Iowa, taking
training in laboratory diagnostic techniques to strengthen
the GOM's ability to detect and respond quickly to the virus
if and when it appears in Morocco.

8. (SBU) Comment: In spite of a fearful populace and an
active press, the GOM appears prepared, poised and
unruffled. While responding to a full-fledged pandemic
would severely test Moroccan capabilities, Embassy avian
influenza team continues to have confidence in the GOM's
commitment to detect and promptly inform the public in the
event of an outbreak within its borders. End Comment.