Avian flu fears forces EU to ban Turkish bird imports

THE European Commission yesterday ordered a ban on all imports of birds and feathers from Turkey amid new fears over avian influenza.

The ban should be in place by this evening, a Commission spokesman said, pending the results of tests which are underway at a Commission laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey.

A ban on imports of live birds and fresh poultry meat from Russia, Kazakhstan and large parts of Asia is already in place in a bid to protect the EU from the highly-contagious viral disease.

Now, as concern grows of a potential pandemic, Brussels is clamping down following weekend suspicions of an outbreak on a Turkish turkey farm. A total of 1,700 birds have died out of 1,800 in whom clinical signs of the disease were first spotted on October 1.

A separate outbreak in Romania is being monitored but no ban has been imposed on Romanian imports because there is no confirmation that the deaths of dozens of ducks and a chicken was caused by avian flu.

The avian flu outbreak so far has led to the killing and destruction of more than 125 million birds, economic losses of at least €10 billion and the deaths of about 50 people.

The scale of the disease is causing serious concern that the current virus strain could eventually lead to a human flu pandemic.

The virus does not pass from person to person easily, but experts believe it could mutate to a form that becomes a human flu virus, passing easily between people and triggering a pandemic.

The Commission published plans last March for “pandemic influenza preparedness and response planning.”

Networks of veterinary and human health laboratories are in place across the EU to monitor the threat and a Commission spokesman said yesterday that efforts were underway to improve co-operation between the surveillance network and the Community Reference Laboratory for Avian Influenza in Weybridge.

Authorities in Turkey and Romania began slaughtering thousands of domestic fowl on Sunday as a precaution against the spread of bird flu after both countries confirmed their first cases of the disease over the weekend.

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