Spain becomes 14 EU state to report bird flu

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Poultry, Influenza, Avian influenza

Spain has become the latest EU member to report finding thedeadly
strain of the bird flu virus in wild birds.

Consumption of poultry meat has dropped by more than half insome EU states, with 300,000 tonnes and more in storage across the bloc,according to previous EU estimates. An average of 18 per cent of people surveyed across Europesay they have reduced their consumption of poultry meat. However greatdifferences exist depending on where people live, according to theEurobarometer survey published on 7 July. Import measures have also restricted the sources processorscan use for their supplies of poultry meat. 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. Last week the bloc's officials repeated warnings thatmillions of people could die if the strain mutates into a more transmissibleform. On 7 July the Spainish agriculture ministry confirmedfinding the H5N1 form of the virus in a wild aquatic bird - a great crestedgrebe - in the province of álava. The ministry has established a protection zone of threekilometers radius around the site and is monitoring birds and poultry in a 10km radius, as agreed under EU measures. Previous outbreaks have occurred in domestic poultry inFrance, Sweden, Germany and Denmark. With the finding in Spain, cases of avianinfluenza H5N1 have occurred in wild birds in fourteen member states of the EUto date. The others are Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, Germany,France, Slovakia, Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic and UK. At the start of this year four people died in Turkey fromcatching the H1N5 form of the virus from their domestic poultry flock. Last week the Commission launched an investigation into theItaly's measures relating to with the bird flu crisis. It says the state aidmay be illegal under the EU's rules. The investigation will look into the aid provided for undera new law, which makes provision for the purchase by the government of 17,000tonnes of poultry meat and other poultry products. In other related news the Commission yesterday announced aseries of measures to extend bans on poultry imports into the bloc and amendedother provisions meant to keep bird flu out of the bloc. These include a proposal to extend restrictions on poultryimports from Hungary to 31 August 2006. An outbreak of the highly pathogenicH5N1 strain of the virus was confirmed in domestic geese in the south of thecountry in mid-June. Hungary has had 20 suspected or confirmed cases of H5N1 indomestic birds, all located within the same area and within the restrictionzones. The import bans on poultry products from China, Malaysia andThailand will remain in place until 31 December 2007. EU measures against avianinfluenza taken in relation to imports from Turkey was also extended to 31December 2006. The Commission has also decided to amend measures forCroatia. When Croatia detects a case of avian influenza in wild birds, theimport restrictions will only apply to regions for which local regulators alsoapply restrictions. At the moment there are no restrictions in place inCroatia. Member states also agreed to extend the deadline for theNetherlands' preventive vaccination programme. The programme was approved inFebruary and reached its authorised deadline last week. The Netherlands plans to make technical changes to improvethe programme. The amendments include an extension of the scope of theprogramme to cover more species, such as geese, and changes to make vaccinationcheaper and easier for hobby farmers. 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. Outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses indomestic poultry have been increasing since the late 1990s, when it was firstdetected in Asia, and have affected poultry in Europe as elsewhere. The result has been a cutting off of poultry imports fromkey suppliers outside the EU and a plunge in consumption in some countries. Last month, the European Commission announced an aid plan tocut down on the bloc's poultry supplies, in a bid to keep prices from plungingmuch more. Poultry meat and eggs are piling up in storage across the EU. The glut has led to falling prices for poultry and eggsupplies, and additional costs for storage. Cutting back on production couldmake prices stabilise or even rebound. The Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Ireland,Italy, Cyprus, Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal and Slovakiahave applied for aid. The continuing fight against the spread of avian influenzathroughout Europe has focused on preventing the spread of the disease todomestic flocks from wild birds. Supplies from other countries have also been restricted. InJune the Commission banned the import of all poultry and poultry products fromRomania, for example. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reportedearlier this year that recent avian influenza outbreaks in Europe, the MiddleEast and Africa have caused dramatic swings in poultry consumption, increasedtrade bans and sharp price declines. The UN agency expects poultry consumption shocks this yearin many countries. According to the FAO report consumption shocks are rangingfrom a dramatic 70 per cent decline in Italy in mid-February to 20 per cent inFrance and 10 per cent in northern Europe. Following the major geographical spread of the H5N1 avianinfluenza virus from South-East Asia in 2005, the EU intensified its programmesfor the surveillance and early detection of avian influenza, both in wild birdsand poultry. A total of 57 countries around the world have so farreported detecting the avian influenza strain, either in wild birds or domesticpoultry. Bird flu has killed 64 percent of those people known to beinfected with the virus this year, according to World Health Organizationstatistics. There were 217 cases of infection and 123 deaths worldwide.Most of the deaths occurred in Asia. Earlier this year four died in Turkey. The H5N1 virus is considered firmly entrenched in poultrythroughout much of Indonesia, and this widespread presence of the virus hasresulted in a significant number of human cases. This year alone, Indonesia has reported more than 33cases with 27 deaths. Deaths have also occurred in Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China,Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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