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EU Sees Bird Migration Low Risk for Passing on Flu
Story by Jeremy Smith
BRUSSELS - Migratory birds have only a low likelihood of being able to pass on a deadly strain of flu that has so far rampaged through six regions in Russia, the European Commission said on Monday.
"Our analysis is that the risk is low," European Commission spokesman Philip Tod told a daily news briefing, referring to the risk of bird flu being passed on by migration. "But the experts' opinions (worldwide) are divided as to the risks."
The Commission did not yet see any need for more steps to stop the virus entering the 25-nation European Union, he said.
Earlier this month, the EU banned imports of chickens and other birds and poultry products from Russia and Kazakhstan to help prevent the spread of bird flu. But in practice, there is almost no poultry trade between the two countries and the EU.
Unless things changed, there was no plan to extend this ban or for any EU-wide preparatory action to contain the disease should it cross the bloc's borders from the east, Tod said. "The Commission feels the measures in force at the moment are sufficient to deal with the threat of bird flu in Europe. We are keeping a close eye on the situation," he said. "If there is a majority of member states in favour of doing more, then clearly we will take another look at the situation."
Russian authorities have confirmed the H5N1 strain of bird flu, potentially lethal to humans, in six regions. This strain has killed more than 50 people in Asia since August 2003. They have also warned that the disease could spread to Europe and the Middle East, as migratory birds move into warmer areas before winter after nesting in Siberia.
Two EU countries, Germany and the Netherlands, have decided to take measures on their own to guard against the possible risk of bird flu arriving on their national territories. In the Netherlands, as from Monday, farmers must keep all poultry indoors to prevent contact with migrating birds -- or build an enclosure to make contact with wild birds impossible.
Animal health experts from EU national ministries will meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the threat that bird flu may pose for the EU, and also the Dutch emergency law -- which, officials say, is not universally popular with other countries. "We are aware that this measure is not deemed to be useful or desirable by all member states," Tod said, adding that no decisions were expected to be taken at Thursday's meeting. "The situation for poultry-rearing across all member states is different. It would not necessarily be easy to adopt such a measure in all countries," he said.
In Germany, the government has drafted emergency regulations to order farmers keep their poultry flocks in pens to prevent contact with wild birds, but these have not yet passed into law.
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