Animal Health: Bird Flu Hits Eu as Suspected Cases Found on Greek Island

Article excerpt

Greek case.

Greece's Agriculture Ministry confirmed on October 18 that the H5 strain of avian flu has been discovered on the small island of Inousses. Although there have been sporadic cases of bird flu in Europe in the past, including outbreaks in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany in 2003, this is the first confirmed case in the EU in the current epidemic moving across the globe. The EU responded immediately by banning the movement of live poultry and poultry products from Greece's Chios region pending the test results.

It will take a week for laboratory tests in Salonika and the UK to determine whether the virus is the dangerous H5N1 strain, which has left 125 million birds dead and killed 60 people in South-East Asia since 2003. This, however, seems highly likely given that H5N1 has already been confirmed in Romania and Turkey. Greece is on the migratory path of wild birds making their way from South-East Europe.

Import bans in Turkey and Romania.

In a scramble to contain the outbreak, the EU the previous week banned poultry and live bird imports from Romania and Turkey for six months after the H5N1 virus was discovered in the two countries.

EU steps.

While public health is primarily the domain of the member states, the Commission has put forward a number of guidelines to help them prepare for a possible epidemic. A Commission Decision on reinforced measures was endorsed on October 14 by the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, made up of EU national experts. It lists a set of guidelines which focus primarily on strengthening hygiene and safety measures on farms ("biosecurity" measures) and introducing early detection systems in high-risk areas such as wetlands and farms located along the major migratory flyways. The member states will have to report back to the Commission by November 5 on the measures they have taken to prevent the virus from crossing their borders.

The Commission is also continuing work on an updated directive on the prevention, control and eradication of avian influenza. This is due to be completed in time for the Farm Council on December 19.

The conclusions adopted by the Foreign Ministers at the October 18 extraordinary Council in Luxembourg emphasise the need for the member states to fight avian flu together: "The Council noted that the full effectiveness of national measures drawing together the veterinary and human health aspects of the dossier (...) would be enhanced by effective EU coordination". The sentence is an apparent reference to certain unilateral import bans put forward by certain member states and regions in the last week in response to the crisis - Bavaria's government this week called for Germany to ban all imports of poultry altogether. …