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European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection

Avian Influenza and Imports

Declaration at the European Parliament

Strasbourg, 10 February 2004

Avian Influenza has affected poultry populations in nine countries in Asia so far, namely Cambodia, the people's Republic of China including the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. According to a FAO/WHO/OIE expert panel held on 3-4 February in Rome the current epidemic is still evolving and not yet under control.

As of today, the disease has taken 18 human lives in Vietnam and Thailand, but a new virus fully transmittable to humans and capable of spreading from human to human has not yet emerged.

In total Asia has around 40% of the world's poultry population and accounts for 25% of world trade in poultry. 6,664 million birds in the affected countries. Already, the situation is affecting the world's grain and meat markets.

This is a devastating disease in poultry causing very high mortality (up to 95% in 24 hours). Many millions of birds have already died of the disease or have been destroyed in the fight to halt its spread.

In its sanitary and its economical dimension not forgetting the animal welfare aspects, this outbreak of avian influenza is unprecedented and although there is at present no indication of a developing human pandemic, this risk cannot yet be excluded, according to the WHO.

The disease impact is likely to be most felt by small holders and owners of backyard forming their main food supply. It may be more difficult to prevent the disease in these flocks compared to larger commercial units. This has the potential to accelerate trends towards the industrialisation of poultry operations in the affected countries and therefore could have some negative social and environmental consequences.

Clearly, the situation affects the European Community at many levels and the Commission as well as the Member States have taken decisive action:

  • The Commission has immediately taken safeguard measures to ensure adequate protection against possible disease introduction in the territory of the Community via imports of live birds and poultry products from the concerned countries to protect both animal and public health.

  • The Commission has made appropriate arrangements to send an animal health and two public health experts to Vietnam to assist in combating the disease, in collaboration with WHO. In addition Member States have also sent experts to various other countries.

  • We have and we will continue monitoring the situation carefully via our delegations, the WHO, FAO, OIE as well as governmental and other non-governmental information sources.

  • The Member States have contingency plans in place according to Community legislation approved by the Commission to be implemented in case of Avian Influenza outbreaks in poultry. The Commission services are at present scrutinizing the plans submitted by Acceding States so that they can become operational on the date of Accession.

  • In the public health domain, assessment of risk to humans is carried out on a continuous basis in co-operation with WHO and experts from the Member States. Rapid exchange of information and mutual consultation on guidelines and measures taken or planned by the Member States is ensured via the Early Warning and Response System of the European Community. Further measures on guidelines and consultation procedures could be taken by the Commission should the need arise. Moreover, the Commission intends to publish a working paper on pandemic influenza preparedness and response planning which sets out a series of steps to be taken by Member States and the European Community to address the threat of an influenza pandemic.

  • The Commission is collaborating closely with the affected countries to identify areas where help is needed and where it can provide the greatest benefit. Not only the Directorate for Health and Consumer Protection, but also those for development, EuropeAID and our humanitarian aid office are actively collaborating with local governments and non governmental organisations. The EC Delegations in the region are actively involved in this process and are coordinating with Member States Embassies.

  • Right now the Commission is preparing a major Community contribution to support Vietnam efforts against avian influenza by financing of up to EUR 1 million worth of protective and laboratory equipment under two ongoing EC assistance programmes under the auspices of DG EuropeAid. This will be the largest contribution to date by any donor to Vietnam. An agreement is due to be signed with WHO which should be finalised by the middle of this week.

  • As time is an important factor, the Commission services at all levels are in continuous dialogue with the World Health Organisation, Food and Agriculture Organisation, World Organisation for Animal Health and local authorities to share our experience and expertise in disease control as rapidly and with as less red tape as possible. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate our staff for this extra-effort.

The Commission hopes that all these measures and activities will be successful to contain and ultimately eradicate the disease and that we can restore normal practices in our trade and other dealings with the countries affected sooner rather than later. The Commission will continue to closely follow the issue, support affected countries in collaboration and co-ordination with the relevant international organizations and the Member States and it will adjust Community measures in proportion to the risks posed by the disease situation.

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