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US bans British Columbia poultry after bird flu find
Updated: 2005-11-22 11:24

The United States banned poultry from mainland British Columbia because of a case of bird flu, but Canadian officials say the virus is not the virulent strain in Southeast Asia that has been blamed for more than 60 human deaths.

The interim ban was announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The governments of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan indicated they would take similar action.

Canada's chief veterinary officer Dr. Brian Evans said he received a letter from American officials saying they are restricting imports of poultry products from the British Columbia mainland until they get a full assessment of the situation in the three-mile (five-kilometer) area around the farm affected by avian flu.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said the strain of bird flu infecting a duck at a farm in Chilliwack, just outside of Vancouver, is different from the virulent outbreak among birds in Asia. Nevertheless, they have started killing about 56,000 birds on the farm with carbon dioxide gas as a precaution.

The H5 virus found at the farm is a low pathogenic North American strain, unlike the deadly H5N1 strain in Asia. Federal officials have assured Canadians that the strain of the flu found in British Columbia poses no threat to human health.

U.S. Agriculture Department spokesman Jim Rogers said U.S. officials are "waiting to get more information from Canada, at which point we could be able to scale back."

"We just need that information," Rogers said.

Canadian officials plan to report to U.S. and other foreign officials by the middle of the week.

"We're working expeditiously with the U.S. to resume trade as soon as possible," said Matt Tolley, press secretary for Canadian agriculture minister Andy Mitchell. "Once we get the information from the surveillance of the five-kilometer zone, we'll share that with the U.S. We're then looking that there current interim ban would be just the five- kilometer zone."

Depending on the results, the U.S. could restrict imports from a smaller, regional area, Rogers said.

The farm with the infected duck isn't licensed to export. Canadian officials announced on Friday that they had discovered a duck infected with the H5 avian flu virus on the British Columbia farm. Four other farms within the three-mile (five-kilometer) area of the affected farm have been placed under quarantine.

An outbreak of bird flu in 2004 in British Columbia prompted the killing of 17 million birds.

Evans said Canada would have preferred that the U.S. take no action since the virus found in the duck is different from the one in Asia.

"That would have been consistent with how we've treated low-path findings in the United States previously," he said. "But again, we're working in an extremely sensitive international environment at this point."

Poultry is a US$262 million (euro222 million) industry in British Columbia, but provincial Agriculture Minister Pat Bell said the province only exports about six or seven percent of its flock to other countries.

The U.S. bans imports of poultry from any country where the high-pathogenic virus from Asia has been found. Those countries include Cambodia, Romania, China, Russia, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia.

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