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Brussels, 23 January 2004

Commission suspends EU poultry imports from Thailand after avian influenza outbreak

Following the confirmation of avian influenza (AI) outbreaks in Thailand, the European Commission adopted the proposal from EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne to suspend the import of all poultry meat and poultry products from this country into the European Union (EU) with immediate effect. David Byrne who is currently on an official visit to the country said that all measures must be taken to protect the EU from the virus. Avian influenza is a highly contagious poultry disease that can cause severe economic damage to the poultry industry and can be transmitted to humans. The EU does not import live poultry and hatching eggs from Thailand and although the risk of importing the virus in meat or meat products is probably very low the Commission wants to make sure that any possible transmission is avoided.

David Byrne said: "Given the seriousness of potential risk for Europe we have to ban Thai poultry imports immediately. We cannot take any risks with public health or animal health. Over the past few days I had extensive contacts with the Thai Government to ascertain the exact state of affairs and pressed them to make full information available so that necessary action could be taken. Given the potential public health risks I urged the Thai authorities to mobilise every effort to deal with the situation and involve the international community through the WHO, OIE and FAO to provide assistance in combating the disease. I have offered EU assistance, as I did to Vietnam, in meeting the challenge of eradicating the disease."

After the confirmation of avian influenza in poultry in Thailand by the Thai authorities, the Commission decided to stop imports of fresh meat of poultry, ratites, wild and farmed feathered game, poultry meat preparations and poultry meat products and of raw material for pet food production consisting of or containing meat of the above mentioned species. Imports of eggs for human consumption 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.

However, 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.

These actions, adopted by the Commission today, enter immediately into force. They do not apply for meat and meat products from poultry slaughtered before 1 January 2004.

The Commission will continue to closely follow the disease situation in Southeast Asia. The situation and the decision adopted will be reviewed at the meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health scheduled for 2-3 February 2004. This meeting includes representatives of the Member States and the Commission.

The EU imported 120,000 tonnes of poultry meat and poultry products from Thailand in 2002 and 128,000 tonnes from January to October 2003.

Outbreaks of avian influenza have been reported in Vietnam, South Korea and Japan for the past few weeks. Because the EU does not import any poultry or poultry products from these countries, no specific EU measures were adopted after these outbreaks.


    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.

    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.

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