Avian flu reaches EU

EU ministers are to hold emergency talks in Luxembourg today following news that avian flu has entered the EU’s borders.

The Greek authorities announced on Monday that they had found evidence of the disease in turkeys on the Aegean island of Oinouses.

It is known that the virus involved is the high pathogenic H5 strain, though it will not be known if it is the same H5N1 strain that has caused such devastation to poultry in south-east Asia until later today (Tuesday).

The new case in Greece follows confirmed cases of the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease in Turkey and Romania at the end of last week.

Tests are also underway on further suspect birds in Romania and in Croatia.

The Greek authorities have already cordoned off the affected region, banning movements of live animals and poultry products.

The growing crisis has prompted the British presidency of the EU to put avian flu on the agenda of talks in Luxembourg today, reports The Independent.

Ministers from Greece and Romania will update their colleagues on the latest situation, says the paper.

British health secretary Patricia Hewitt has tried to allay fears over the threat the disease poses to humans.

“This is a bird disease,” she told the House of Commons. “There is no reason to stop eating poultry.”

But the UK government is starting to stockpile anti-viral drugs as a first line of defence should avian flu mutate into a form that is capable of human to human transmission.

Meanwhile, poultry producers throughout the EU are being urged to maintain their vigilance and step up their bio-security.

Farmers with free-range flocks in particular should take all steps to prevent contact with migrating wild birds, says the British Poultry Council.

Birds should be fed indoors and farmers should start planning now in case they are ordered to permanently house their birds.