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Romania poultry sector hit hard by avian influenza

By Ahmed ElAmin , 13-Jul-2006

The effects of avian influenza on Romania's poultry sectorprovides a high-profile case study for the rest of Europe on how the viruscould affect both the supply of the meat and consumers' demand.

Romania, due to become an EU member state in 2007, has beenparticularly hard hit by the avian influenza virus.

In June the European Commission banned the import of allpoultry and poultry products from Romania into the EU due to the bird flu outbreak there.

According to a report released this week by the USDepartment of Agriculture, there are 15 active avian influenza (AI) outbreaksout of a total of 127 cases that occurred during the second wave of the virusin May.

The disease has left many Romanian producers are on theverge of bankruptcy.

Almost one million birds were culled during the country'ssecond avian influenza wave in May, compared to 421,000 birds culled duringOctober to December last year.

The majority of them, 764,865 birds, belonged to commercialfarms located in Codlea Platform district, while 211,035 birds belonged to over14,000 households in the countryside.

About 80 per cent of the outbreaks were due to the sale oflive poultry from the infected farms.

The outbreaks were located in 18 counties as well as theBucharest area. The 15 active outbreaks are located in the counties of Brasov,Prahova, Arges, Ilfov, Giurgiu and Harghita.

The speed at which AI is spreading decreased very much inthe last two weeks, and no new outbreaks were detected since 8 June, the USDAreported in its Global Agriculture Information Network (GAIN) report.

Representatives of poultry producers say poultry meatconsumption decreased by 50 per cent to 80 per cent during May.

As poultry producers continued to accrue meat stocks, theagriculture ministry has decided to double the support level for domesticpoultry producers.

The subsidy level reached $1 for a bird of at least 1.75kg/bird delivered to authorised slaughterhouses. The financial help is grantedonly to companies observing the biosecurity rules as described in the updatedveterinary legislation.

Confronted with the fast rate at which the disease isspreading, the country's government has amended its strategy towards cullingbirds.

Under the previous strategy, only the birds in the affectedpremises would be culled until laboratory tests confirmed the presence of theH5N1 form of the virus. To date, in 99 per cent of the cases the rapid testshave been confirmed to be H5 by additional laboratory tests.

In order to prevent the virus spread further, theagriculture ministry is culling all birds within a three km area as soon assoon as rapid tests indicate the presence of avian influenza.

The country has also increased the number of samples foravian influenza testing in the high-risk areas, increased inspections atpoultry farms, and enforced severe penalties for households which do not keepbirds inside the yard.

The transport of live poultry is also prohibited, and theselling of poultry from backyard farms is forbidden.

Supplies from other countries have also been restricted in abid to reduce stocks of poultry building up in storage.

US poultry meat is no longer eligible for import to theRomanian market as the EU health certificate model began to be enforced on 8June 2006. Consequently no US poultry plant is approved for export to the EU market,the USDA reported.

While no human case of the H5N1 virus has occurred in theEU, scientists worldwide have been worried that H5N1, which can pass frompoultry to humans, may mutate so that it can be transmitted from human to humanand start a influenza pandemic. Worldwide, governments are starting to step uptheir precautionary measures against the disease as more scientific evidencepoints to coming pandemic.

The World Bank has estimated that a severe avian flupandemic among humans could cost the global economy about 3.1 per cent of grossdomestic product - around US$1.25 trillion on a world gross domestic product of$40 trillion.

The severe case scenario, prepared by the Bank's DevelopmentEconomic Prospects Group, is based on a one per cent mortality rate - or about70 million people.

Until now, the principal transmission of the H5N1 form ofthe bird flu virus has occurred between animals, and, to a very limited extentfrom animals to humans.

In the EU outbreaks have occurred in domestic poultryin France, Sweden, Germany and Denmark. Cases of avian influenza H5N1 haveoccurred in wild birds in fourteen member states of the EU to date. Thecountries are Spain, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, Germany,France, Slovakia, Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic and UK.

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