If the disease hits here the EU might have to cull entire flocks to stop the disease from spreading and infecting humans, raising not only a supply problem for food processors, but also a drop inconsumption due to consumers fears.
Northern Foods yesterday blamed bird flu and the resulting supply problem for raising the price of the chicken meat it uses as an ingredient for its processed foods. The company said the avian fluhas led the company to buy more expensive locally reared chicken.
Yesterday the EU banned imports of live birds and feathers from Turkey. Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Poland, Ukraine and Serbia-Montenegro also banned poultry importsfrom Turkey and Romania.
EU veterinary officers from the 25-nation bloc will meet in Brussels tomorrow to discuss results of bird flu tests in Romania and Turkey.
In an interview with FoodProductionDaily.com, Christian Patermann, the European Commission's director of biotechnology, agriculture and food research said the bloc'sadministrative arm had done as much as possible to prepare the bloc's countries for the arrival of bird flu.
It was up to individual countries to implement action plans to prevent the onslaught of the disease, he said.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed 60 people in Asia since 2003. Scientists fear the strain could further mutate into an even more dangerous human virus.
Some have been raising the spectre of another outbreak like the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918, during which millions died.
H5N1 had largely been confined to Southeast Asia but in recent months has crept across Russia and has now spread to Turkey. EU officials had previously said it was unlikely thatit would get this far.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy today called on the EU members to meet so countries could co-ordinate its response to the bird flu.
"The H5N1 virus is in the process of scattering and is reaching our doorstep," Douste-Blazy told reporters this morning.
Last week Turkey reported preliminary investigations had found bird flu in domestic fowl. Romania also reported it suspected the virus was responsible for the deaths of dozensof birds.
European consumers are increasing concerned about food safety, mainly due to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) scare in cattle, a foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 and of avian fluin 2003. In the EU poultry consumption overtook demand for beef and veal in 1996, when BSE hit the headlines.
Chicken is the main source of food poisoning in Europe. Recent studies in the UK showing high incidences of bacterial contamination in chicken at the retail level and an outbreak of food poisoningcaused by chickens in Spain this month has heightened safety concerns over the bird.
European countries have been making preparations in advance. The Netherlands, with a memory of what avian flu did to their economy in 2003, this week ordered farmers to move all commercial chickensand turkeys indoors or to outdoor pens that would prevent contact with wild birds.
Bird flu struck the Netherlands struck in 2003, killing a vet and infecting another 1,000 people. The disease was contained following the destruction of about 30 million poultry.
Germany also said it would implement a similar plan, to be activated if bird flu arrives in Europe. In the UK officials have laid down the groundwork for an action plan restricting the movement ofpigs as well as poultry. The UK media say scientists fear that pigs can act as carriers of the various strains of the bird flu. Defra, the country's environment department, has also met with industrybodies to coordinate action.