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EU slaps bird ban on Turkey as alarm mounts
Updated: 2005-10-11 08:49

The European Union announced an immediate ban on live bird imports from Turkey after an outbreak of avian influenza, as Europe heightened its state of alert over the potentially deadly disease.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, also said it was waiting for test results from a suspected outbreak in Romania -- like Turkey an EU candidate state -- and could act later in the week.

Also Monday, Switzerland -- which is not an EU member -- announced a ban on poultry imports from both Turkey and Romania, while EU member Hungary joined Poland in unilaterally banning poultry imports from Romania.

The EU announcement came after authorities in the northwestern Turkish province of Balikesir slaughtered hundreds of birds overnight after avian flu was detected in the region.

"The detection of avian influenza in Turkey is very worrying, given its proximity to EU borders," said EU health and consumer protection commissioner Markos Kyprianou.

"Still there is no proof that the disease is being transmitted or there is a risk of it being transmitted in the EU by migrating birds."

EU slaps bird ban on Turkey as alarm mounts
A man holds a turkey and a duck while poultry are prepared for culling in Kiziksa village in Balikesir province, northwestern Turkey, October 10, 2005. Turkey and Romania culled thousands of birds and imposed quarantine zones on Sunday to try to stop the spread of avian flu as scientists worked to discover if the outbreaks could be the deadly H5N1 strain. [Reuters]
Speaking during a visit to Bulgaria, he added: "The commission has blocked the imports from Turkey where it seems it is the avian flu virus, and decided to wait until Wednesday on Romania because indications there are for the contrary.

"This is a temporary decision until we have the final confirmation Wednesday, because even in Turkey it may not be the highly pathogenic strain virus."

About 3,000 birds were gassed in Kiziksa, where the first case of bird flu in the country was confirmed at a turkey farm over the weekend and some 2,000 birds were initially slaughtered, the NTV news channel reported.

But the Turkish health ministry downplayed the threat to human health. "The fact that bird flu has been seen in poultry does not mean there is a worrying situation," the ministry said.

Experts are still analysing the exact strain of the virus found, but the EU acknowledged that some are far less dangerous than others.

Figures supplied by the commission indicated the new ban will have little impact in practice: in 2004 there was no live poultry or fresh meat imported from Turkey.

On Romania, the EU executive sent three experts after a suspected outbreak in a backyard flock of chickens and ducks in the Danube delta region.

Laboratory tests so far have proved inconclusive, but further results should be available on Wednesday, with final determination of the virus type expected on Friday.

Romania said it would pursue slaughtering operations, with more than 15,000 poultry set to be gassed around the village of Ceamurlia de Jos, according to an official in the southeast Tulcea region.

The H5N1 avian flu virus has mainly been found in 10 Southeast Asian countries and has so far infected 112 people, of whom around 60 have died, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Scientists have warned that millions of people around the world could die if the virus crosses with human flu strains to become a lethal and highly contagious new disease.

The deadly H5N1 strain has been carried by migratory birds as far north and west as Siberian regions of Russia, but has yet to cause any cases in humans there.

Elsewhere, Austria said it was increasing stocks of face masks, disinfectant and vaccine, and Greece said it was bolstering preventive measures.

In Paris, a senior official with the world's paramount agency for veterinary health cautioned that there were many types of avian viruses and it was still unclear that the Turkish and Romanian virus was the same as the strain found elsewhere.

Jean-Luc Angot, deputy director of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), praised Romanian and Turkish authorities for their swift response.

"They have taken the right measures, they have slaughtered animals in the affected areas, carried out disinfections -- these are the kinds of steps which help a disease to be eradicated," Angot said.

He added: "To the extent that they are candidates for joining the European Union, it's in their interest to show that they respond quickly."

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