France orders birds indoors as bird flu gets closer

16th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 15, 2006 (AFP) - The French government on Wednesday ordered all poultry and tame birds to be kept indoors, as the deadly strain of bird flu continued its spread through Europe.

PARIS, Feb 15, 2006 (AFP) - The French government on Wednesday ordered all poultry and tame birds to be kept indoors, as the deadly strain of bird flu continued its spread through Europe.

All farm ducks and geese are also to be vaccinated in three departments on the Atlantic coast to prevent their contamination from wild birds, Agriculture Minister Dominique Bussereau announced after an interministerial meeting.

France is Europe's biggest poultry producer, with free-range birds accounting for 17 percent of its production — as well as western Europe's main crossroads for migratory birds, potential carriers of the deadly virus.

The French food safety agency AFSSA warned on Tuesday of a heightened risk of the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus reaching the country, with one expert warning that it is only a matter of time before it arrives in France.

France's agriculture ministry has already ordered free-range birds in more than half of its 96 mainland departments to be kept in shelters.

Live birds have also been banned from all markets and trade fairs, including at a huge annual agricultural fair in Paris at the end of this month.

European leaders, meanwhile, took urgent new action Wednesday to counter fast-multiplying outbreaks of bird flu, ordering poultry indoors to avoid infection but urging consumers not to panic.

The European Union's executive arm also warned that it expects more cases as warm spring weather brings a seasonal migration of swans and other wild birds carrying the potentially lethal disease.

As Germany became the latest EU country to confirm the lethal H5N1 strain of the disease, EU health experts agreed to ban all imports of untreated feathers to further reduce the "high risk" of the disease spreading.

"Today's decision ... was taken in light of the rapid spread of avian influenza over the past months and the current high risk of the disease spreading further," said the European Commission.

So far, the presence of H5N1 virus — which in its highly pathogenic form can be fatal to humans — has been confirmed in recent days in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Romania and the European part of Russia.

Preliminary tests have proved positive in Austria, while Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia and Ukraine are investigating suspected cases.

EU health commissioner Marko Kyprianou, attending the two days of talks with health experts from member states, underlined that there is unlikely to be an early end to the cases of bird flu.

"Given that the spring migration will begin soon we will review again the situation to see if there's need for additional methods... We shouldn't be surprised if we have more migratory wild birds with this virus," he said.

"There's no need to panic," he warned. "We have to advise the European public to stay calm... There's no reason not to consume chicken."

The potentially lethal H5N1 strain has killed at least 90 people — almost half those who caught it — mostly in Southeast Asia and China where it first erupted but also in Turkey and northern Iraq.

The big fear in the EU, the world's third biggest exporter of poultry after the United States and Brazil, is that the virus passes from migratory swans to chickens, or other birds in the human food chain.

To head off that risk a number of countries, including Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Sweden, have ordered poultry and tame birds to be kept indoors to avoid contamination.

The avian influenza virus, first reported on Europe's southeastern flanks in early January, re-erupted with a vengeance last week, starting in Italy and Greece. But there are now almost daily reports of cases in a string of European countries.

In Germany, the authorities Wednesday set up the now-standard 10-kilometer surveillance zone around the site where two dead wild swans and one dead hawk were found on the island of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea.

Hours later Hungary confirmed that it had detected the H5-type virus in the bodies of three dead swans in the south of the country.

Further north, a number of dead birds, including swans, were found across Denmark on Tuesday and Wednesday.

As the EU scrambles, some underline that there is basically little it can do to prevent the disease arriving.

"We have absolutely no control over the introduction of the virus by migratory birds that are about to start returning from Africa to Siberia, Scandinavia and Greenland," said French food safety agency panelist Jean Hars.

"It is unavoidable," he told AFP.

Until recently the 25-nation EU has said it is satisfied that the measures taken are sufficient.

But Brussels is closely monitoring the situation and if poultry should become infected, it may call for the culling of all birds and eggs on small holdings or farms.

In addition the European Commission has proposed speeding up the process of clamping down on new outbreaks, by making arrangements automatic rather than on a case-by-case basis.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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