The European Commission today 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 under way at a Commission laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey in England.
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 of Romanian imports because there is no confirmation that the deaths of dozens of ducks and a chicken there 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 €5bn and the deaths of about 50 people.
The scale of the disease is now causing serious concern that the current virus strain could eventually lead to a human flu 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 today that efforts were under way to improve co-operation between the surveillance network and the Community Reference Laboratory for Avian Influenza in Weybridge.
The spokesman said that “in most cases” avian influenza viruses do not infect humans.
He added: “However, these viruses have a tndency to mutate and may occasionally spread to other animals and to humans.”
The deaths of about 50 people so far have occurred in south-east Asia, and a possible mutation or genetic change of the virus circulating in Asia could transform the virus into a new human, highly-contagious strain of flu, he said.