The spread of avian flu has heightened concerns that it could trigger a human flu pandemic if the virus mutates into a form capable of human-to-human transmission.

EU foreign ministers met in special session in Luxembourg on Tuesday (18 October) to assess the EU’s preparedness.

But EU food safety commissioner Markos Kyprianou said it was essential to recognise that avian flu in poultry was a separate issue to that of a possible human pandemic.

Stockpiling anti-viral drugs, such as Tamiflu, was still a sensible precaution, although it could only ever be a first line of defence against a possible human pandemic.

Increasing capacity for vaccine production was another useful step.

Meanwhile, British consumers appear to have brushed off any talk of a food scare.

Despite reports of a 40% drop in chicken sales in Italy, Sainsbury’s said there had been only a marginal impact in its stores.

Asda agreed, although it has taken the precaution of placing signs by its chill cabinets emphasising the safety of traceable British poultry.