BRUSSELS, Belgium, April 28, 2005 (ENS):
Europe will soon have a new law to control bird flu
viruses that do not cause serious disease to keep them
from mutating into viruses that do. The highly pathogenic
virus forms have caused the most dramatic epidemics
among birds and are most likely to harm human health.
There is growing concern about the human health implications
if a strain of avian influenza would mutate into a virus
that is transmissible between humans.
Today the European Commission adopted a proposal to
update bird flu control measures across the EU's 25
member states. The new legislation will require EU states
to introduce and reinforce surveillance and control
measures against the low pathogenic viruses, aiming
to prevent virus mutation into highly pathogenic forms
of the disease.
The updated measures proposed today are based on lessons
learned from recent epidemics and new scientific knowledge.
EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos
Kyprianou said, “The current situation in Asia
and recent outbreaks of avian flu in the EU has shown
us how devastating the social and economic consequences
of this disease can be. Beyond the known impact on animal
health and welfare, there is a real fear that a mutant
strain of avian flu could cause a human influenza pandemic."
Controlling past bird flu outbreaks has proven to be
costly and "created animal welfare issues related
to the mass slaughter of animals," the Commission
There are various strains of the avian influenza virus,
with the high pathogenic strains having almost 100 percent
Because low pathogenic strains of bird flu generally
do not cause serious disease, existing EU legislation
on avian flu does not set out specific EU level measures
against these strains. But low pathogenic strains crop
Italy, where the disease was first identified in the
early 1900s, found a low pathogenic strain of bird flu
in turkeys just last week.
The Commission said April 20 that the outbreak of the
H5N2 viral strain in the northern part of the country
does not pose a threat to public health. It is different
from the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain that has caused
over 125 million birds to die or be culled in eight
Asian countries since December 2003.
Italian authorities will vaccinate birds in the area,
the official said.
Russia's Agriculture Ministry said it has suspended
imports of poultry and poultry products from Italy to
prevent the spread of bird flu.
Recent major outbreaks of avian flu occurred in Italy
in 1999-2000, and in the Netherlands, with incidences
in Belgium and Germany in 2003. The outbreak in the
Netherlands led to the destruction of some 30 million
birds and direct economic costs of more than €150
million (US$193 million).
The new legislative proposal is based on lessons learned
from recent epidemics, new scientific knowledge on the
pathogenesis of the disease, how it spreads, and the
risks to human health.
Wild birds are often carriers of the low pathogenic
strains of the virus without showing any symptoms, and
contact of domestic flocks with wild migratory birds
has been at the origin of many epidemics in poultry.
Avian influenza can occasionally spread to humans and
other animals, usually following direct contact with
"This proposal aims to set up the best possible
system to prevent new outbreaks of avian flu in the
EU, to swiftly manage those that do occur and to minimize
their negative impact," said Kyprianou.
The new measures are more flexible than the existing
law regarding vaccination. The use of vaccination will
always be strictly monitored and the EU rules will require
that vaccinated birds can be differentiated from infected
birds, an important distinction for disease control
and trade purposes.
The measures proposed will be managed so that restrictions
on the trade in poultry and poultry products from the
vaccinated areas can be minimized. Eventual restrictions
on trade will be decided on a case-by-case basis, the
In any case, restrictions will only be applied to the
specific regions using vaccination, or even compartments
within those regions. All areas of the EU not using
vaccination will be able to continue to trade normally.
The draft Directive adopted by the Commission today
will have to be approved by the Council of Ministers
after consultation of the European Parliament. It is
expected to enter into force January 1, 2007. The previous
legislation on avian influenza will then be repealed.
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