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Farmers should bring poultry indoors: MEP

By Ray Ryan, Agribusiness Correspondent
IRISH farmers should follow Swedish and Danish examples and keep poultry locked up, warned one politician, as fears grow the deadly bird flu has moved a step closer to Ireland today.

But Department of Agriculture officials say any risk posed to Ireland by bird flu, which has now been confirmed in Germany, will be dealt with by a wide range of European Union and domestic measures, including an early detection system.

As the deadly virus continues to spread, fears grow it has the potential to devastate Europe’s €24 billion poultry and egg industry.

Germany became the fourth EU country to detect the highly pathogenic strain of avian flu. Italy, Greece and Austria had earlier confirmed outbreaks.

Ireland East Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness yesterday urged the Government to seriously consider taking poultry indoors.

"The Swedish and Danish authorities have ordered all poultry to be kept indoors to avoid the risk of infected migratory birds coming into contact with domestic poultry. The Irish authorities need to constantly review their bird flu strategy and now need to consider the possibility of moving birds indoors," she said.

However, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAF) said that on the basis of the current risk assessment, the housing of birds is not required.

"However, we are constantly reviewing the situation, in conjunction with our colleagues in Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as the European Commission services. We will be guided by the best scientific knowledge in this regard," he said.

The department said it is maintaining a high level of vigilance and is constantly revising contingency arrangements in light of any emerging information.

It said it will not hesitate to take any further appropriate veterinary or scientific measures that would assist in reducing the risk of avian flu being introduced here.

More than 8,000 flock owners in the €360 million turnover poultry industry are now registered with DAF, which is working closely with the Department of Health and Children. Information on bio-security and clinical signs of the disease has been issued to the industry.

Agriculture and Food Minister Mary Coughlan said her department will continue to do what it can to prevent the virus entering the country.

A small number of suspect cases of bird flu have been investigated in Ireland in recent months and all proved to be negative. One of the suspect cases was in swans in Wexford and another involved birds found dead in Wicklow.