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Brussels, 28 April 2005

Avian Influenza: Commission proposes updated measures aimed at preventing epidemics

Today the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Directive establishing updated EU-level measures on the control of avian influenza. Controlling past avian influenza outbreaks has proven very costly and created animal welfare issues related to the mass slaughter of animals. Added to this, there is growing concern about the potential human health implications if a strain of avian influenza would mutate into a virus that is transmissible between humans. The updated measures proposed today are based on lessons learned from recent epidemics and new scientific knowledge. An important focus of the proposed legislation is to introduce more measures against low pathogenic viruses to prevent mutation into the highly pathogenic forms that have been responsible for the most dramatic epidemics and which are more likely to harm human health.

EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said: “The current situation in Asia and recent outbreaks of avian flu in the EU has shown us how devastating the social and economic consequences of this disease can be. Beyond the known impact on animal health and welfare, there is a real fear that a mutant strain of avian flu could cause a human influenza pandemic. This proposal aims to set up the best possible system to prevent new outbreaks of avian flu in the EU, to swiftly manage those that do occur and to minimise their negative impact.”

The proposal is based on lessons learned from recent epidemics, new scientific knowledge on the pathogenesis of the disease, how it spreads and the risks to human health. The aim is to ensure that the most appropriate surveillance and prevention measures against avian flu are in place in the EU and that the health risks, economic costs and the negative impact on society in the event of an outbreak are minimised.

Experience has shown that low pathogenic strains of avian influenza generally do not cause serious disease, which is why the existing EU legislation on avian flu did not set out specific EU-level measures against these strains. However, when they mutate into high pathogenic strains they can cause a devastating epidemic and tend to also infect humans. This is why the newly proposed legislation will require EU Member States to introduce and reinforce surveillance and control measures against the low pathogenic viruses, aiming to prevent virus mutation and highly pathogenic forms of the disease.

The new measures are also more flexible regarding vaccination. The use of vaccination will always be strictly monitored and the EU rules will require that vaccinated birds can be differentiated from infected birds. This is very important both for disease control and for trade purposes.

The measures proposed will be managed so that restrictions on the trade in poultry and poultry products from the vaccinated areas can be minimised. Eventual restrictions on trade will be decided on a case-by-case basis. In any case, restrictions will only be applied to the specific regions using vaccination, or even compartments within those regions. All areas of the EU not using vaccination will be able to continue to trade normally.

Next steps

The draft Directive adopted by the Commission today will have to be approved by the Council after consultation of the European Parliament. It is expected to enter into force 1 January 2007. The previous legislation on avian influenza (Directive 92/40/EEC) will then be repealed.

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