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IP/04/160

Brussels, 3 February 2004

Avian influenza outbreak in Asia: Member States agree to prolong import embargo on poultry products

The Standing Committee for the Food Chain and Animal Health, representing the Member States, agreed today to the proposal from EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne to continue the suspension of imports into the EU of chicken products and pet birds from Asian countries affected by avian influenza. This concerns imports of fresh chicken meat and chicken products from Thailand and pet birds from Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Pakistan, China, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. It was agreed that the suspension be maintained for 6 months until 15 of August in keeping with OIE (International Organisation of Animal Health) guidelines. It will be kept under constant review with a view to amend it earlier if the situation allows for it. Avian influenza is a highly contagious poultry disease that can cause severe economic damage to the poultry industry and can be transmitted to humans. Although the risk of importing the virus in meat or meat products is probably very low the EU wants to make sure that any possible transmission is avoided.

"We are taking every possible measure to prevent the introduction of avian influenza from the countries affected in Asia in line with our veterinary legislation based on international guidelines. I am pleased that we are receiving the full support of our Member States in this regard," says Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne. "Clearly, we must all remain vigilant and Member States must ensure that the import ban is fully respected at ports and airports. Our import ban is designed to keep the disease out of Europe so that neither our citizens nor poultry stocks should be at risk. Travellers to the affected regions should follow WHO guidance."

After the confirmation of avian influenza in poultry in Thailand and some other Asian countries, the European Commission already adopted two decisions (see IP/04/95 and IP/04/123) suspending the imports into the EU of chicken products and pet birds from all Asian countries affected by the disease. Today, the Standing Committee for the Food Chain and Animal Health reconfirmed this suspension. It is now applicable until 15 August 2004 and will be kept under constant review in accordance with OIE guidelines and depending on progress in eradicating the disease.

In detail, imports from Thailand of fresh meat of poultry, ratites, wild and farmed feathered game, meat preparations and meat products and raw pet food and unprocessed feed material containing any parts of the above mentioned species are prohibited.

Imports of eggs for human consumption and non treated game trophies from all birds destined for the EU have also been suspended. Imports of live poultry, ratites and of their hatching eggs and eggs for human consumption are already not authorised from Thailand. No specific ban has been adopted for the same products from the other Asian countries affected by avian influenza (Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Pakistan, China, South Korea and Vietnam) because the import of any of these products from these countries is not allowed for other reasons.

The suspension does not apply for Thai products obtained from birds slaughtered before 1 January 2004 and imports of poultry meat products treated to a temperature of at least 70° Celsius originating in Thailand shall continue to be authorised, as they pose no risk for disease introduction.

In addition to these measures for Thailand, the imports of unprocessed feathers and live birds other than poultry (pet birds) from all affected countries is prohibited.

The Commission will continue to closely follow the disease situation in Southeast Asia. The situation and the decision will be reviewed at the next meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health.

Background

    Animal Disease

Avian influenza (AI) is a highly contagious viral infection of poultry which depending on the species can cause major losses to the poultry industry. Free-living birds may carry influenza viruses without becoming ill due to a natural resistance. It is known that wild waterfowl present a natural reservoir for these viruses and can be responsible for the primary introduction of infection into domestic poultry. AI is listed by OIE as a list A disease capable of spreading rapidly irrespective of national borders. The disease may have serious socio-economic consequences with disruption of international trade in live poultry and poultry products.

Further information on avian influenza and animal health:

http://ec.europa.eu/food/animal/diseases/controlmeasures/avian_en.htm

    Public health

Although the transmission of avian influenza to humans has happened only on a few occasions, mostly causing conjunctivitis and milder forms of influenza like illness, however six fatal cases (out of 18 reported infected people) have occurred in 1997 in Hong Kong with subtype H5N1. In early 2003 three persons were again infected with the same subtype and died. During the Dutch epidemic in 2003 one veterinarian died due to infection with avian influenza of subtype H7N7. Human infections via poultry products e.g. meat or table eggs have never been reported, and direct contact to infected birds is the main source of infection for humans.

Further information on avian influenza and humans:

http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_threats/com/Influenza/avian_influenza_en.htm


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