DAYS after the confirmation of at least six cases of swine flu in neighbouring St Vincent, Cabinet has agreed to the creation of a National Task Force to manage diseases that are transmitted between humans and animals.
Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj, speaking at the post-Cabinet briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair yesterday, said a National Task Force for the Management and Control of Zoonotic Diseases will co-ordinate stakeholders that need to be concerned about illnesses like swine and bird flu.
This will include places like abattoirs and the task force will also be mandated to create a national control programme.
Caribbean News Media (CMC), out of Kingstown in St Vincent and the Grenadines, reported on Wednesday that six cases of the swine flu (Influenza A H1N1) virus had been confirmed by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
Maharaj said Cabinet has also agreed to control the importation of animals and fish species that are threatening or may pose a threat to the local ecology.
The importation of several aquatic species that are exotic to local fauna and can, through their invasive nature, eventually upset the local ecological balance, will now be monitored.
On the list of unwanted aliens so far are electric, parasitic and airbreathing catfish, electric snakehead eels, African tiger fish, the red-eared slider turtle, piranha and several types of bass and carp.
This country is at present home to a vigorous illegal underground trade in exotic animals, including monkeys, birds and reptiles not native to Trinidad’s landscape and which are often intentionally, or not, released into the local wild.
Responding to a question about the State’s handling of the current animal smuggling problem, Maharaj said the matter fell mostly under the purview of the Ministry of National Security and required the cooperation of the Customs and Excise Division, among other keyhole agencies.
Maharaj also announced Cabinet’s decision to offer up for lease up to 1,500 acres of State-owned agricultural land for the commercial cultivation of rice, in an effort to supply more to local demand and reduce importation costs.
The present importation bill for up to 34,000 tonnes of rice stands around $90 million, Maharaj said, and the State aims to have at least 10,000 acres under cultivation.
The lease will be issued through standard public competitive bidding, Maharaj said, and will run for five years to a qualified private sector appointee.
The disbursement will not have any adverse effects on the surrounding protected wetlands, Maharaj said. See Page 17.