EU tackles bird flu epidemic at source

By staff writer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Influenza Eu

The threat of an avian bird flu pandemic has to be tackled not only
within the EU, but by helping countries most at risk.

As a result, the European Commission this week earmarked up to €30 million to assist Asian partners face up to this challenge in 2006.

The allocation of the money will be decided as soon as there has been an international evaluation of medium and long term needs.

The need is certainly there. The ongoing outbreak in Asia has led to the destruction of more than 125 million birds, the death of around 60 people and economic losses estimated at €8 to €12 billion, according to AVEC, the EU's association for poultry processors.

In Europe the reduced import supply pressures from Asian markets has led to European poultry prices rising, which was also boosted by high feed grain costs last year. Prices for poultry have dropped by up to 40 per cent, according to the Italian farmers' union.

The EC has therefore decided to target the source of the problem. The current meeting on Avian and Human Pandemic Influenza in Geneva, which finishes today, has provided the opportunity to assess and identify what international financial assistance is required to support country and regional plans, particularly in Asia.

"There are concrete actions we can take to increase preparedness and avert the threat of a pandemic,"​ said the Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

"These must be treated as a priority in the coming months. The Commission stands ready to provide assistance, particularly to least developed countries in Asia to support their medium term strategies for tackling this growing problem."

The recurrence of bird flu in Asia over the last three years and its rapid expansion to other regions in the world makes it necessary to develop a long term external response strategy.

In addition, European consumers are increasingly concerned about food safety, mainly due to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) scare in cattle, a foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 and avian flu in 2003. Chicken is the main source of food poisoning in Europe.

In the EU poultry consumption overtook beef and veal in 1996, when BSE hit the headlines. Pork holds the number one position in the EU and could gain from the current crisis hitting the poultry industry.

The outbreak of the milder H5N7 form of the virus in the Netherlands in 2003 gives some idea of potential losses. The country was Europe's biggest poultry producer at the time with more than 100 million chickens. About 30 million had to be destroyed at a direct cost of €150 million. The Dutch Agricultural Research Institute estimates that total costs for the Dutch farm sector, including related industries, at €500 million.

The EU produces about 11m tonnes of poultry meat annually, of which chicken accounts for 70 per cent of the total, turkey 20 per cent and ducks four per cent. The poultry sector is the second largest meat-producing sector after pork. The EU exports about 1.1m tonnes a year.

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