"Collaboration between countries and the international community is essential to ensure that the avian influenza virus really is under control and that effective preventive and control measures have been put in place in each affected country and its neighbours," said the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO and OIE. Both organisations said that they were prepared to provide international experts to assess the epidemiological situation.
It is now more than 3 months since the outbreak of avian influenza in several Asian countries, which resulted in 23 human deaths in Thailand and Vietnam. At least 100 million birds have died or have been culled to control the disease.
"The crisis is still not over," FAO and OIE warned. "In countries such as Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, further outbreaks could still flare up. The virus could spread again within and between countries. As long as the H5N1 virus is not fully under control, the potential threat to human health remains."
The statement follows concern that Vietnam is seeking to import between 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes of corn for feed. According to the Vietnamese ministry of trade, there is a possibility that import tariffs on corn purchase may be waved, opening the door to grain exporters from Australia, Europe and the US.
The move is supported by the Vietnam Husbandry Feed Association, which represents 138 feed processors in the country. It has warned of a possible rise in feed prices of up to 1.5 per cent, with processors looking to offset losses caused by bird flu.
Vietnam, where an estimated 38 million poultry died, is expected to declare the virus eradicated later this month.
Thailand, whose poultry export business annually tops $1 billion, has been forced to cull over 25 million chickens. Like Vietnam, the country is obviously desperate to restore its poultry industry. But not everyone is confident that Thai assurances that the country remains free from the virus can be trusted - the government denied the existence of the virus for weeks.
Events in Asia are causing concern in Europe, where consumers have been jittery since the issue of bird flu began to dominate the news agenda a few months ago. Aside from the health aspect, poultry producers in the EU are concerned quick restocking could further undermine public confidence in poultry products.
EU officials have been keen to reiterate that a Europe-wide six-month ban on the import of all southeast Asian poultry is currently in place, and that the ban will remain in force until there is categorical proof that the disease has been eradicated.
"In the battle against the disease, there are definitely some improvements. But we fear that the virus may continue to circulate in the environment even without an outbreak or any clinical signs in animals," said Joseph Domenech, chief of the animal health service. "Appropriate precautionary measures have to be put in place to be absolutely sure that infected zones are free from infection and will remain free," he added.