Food processors now face the prospect of rising prices for poultry with the confirmation of avian influenza H5 virus in Romania and Turkey.
The UK's Northern Foods, for one, has already blamed bird flu and the resulting supply problem for raising the price of the chicken meat it uses as an ingredient for its processed foods. The company said the avian flu has led the company to buy more expensive locally reared chicken
If the disease hits here the EU might have to cull entire flocks to stop the disease from spreading and infecting humans, raising a supply problem for food processors. They also face theprospect of a drop in consumption due to consumers fears, even though the virus cannot be transmitted to humans by eating poultry meat.
The European Commission yesterday stepped up control actions across the bloc, including the banning of imports of live birds, poultry meat and other poultry products from Romania. Imports of livebirds from Turkey were banned since Monday following the finding of avian influenza there.
Imports of poultry from Russia and Kazakhstan were prohibited since August as the disease marches westward from Asia where it started. The disease, which kills all birds infected with the virus and50 per cent of humans who catch it from contact with live animals, has the potential to wipe out entire stocks held by farmers.
The government of Poland also said yesterday their country will probably find cases of the illness in birds if the disease has been found in Romania.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed 60 people in Asia since 2003. Scientists fear the strain could further mutate into an even more dangerous human virus.
Some have been raising the spectre of another outbreak like the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918, during which millions died.
Other actions decided yesterday by the EU's health and consumer protection commissioner Markos Kyprianou included preventive measures and increased bio-security measures at poultry farms across thebloc.
An emergency meeting of experts on avian influenza and migratory birds will be held today. They will evaluate the risk that migratory birds may pose for the EU. The experts' group will then issuerecommendations on the potential risk for humans in contact with such birds.
Commission regulators have also issued advice on precautions travellers should take when visiting Romania and Turkey and other countries where avian influenza has been detected.
In other related news the UN officials said yesterday officials are unprepared to treat an inevitable world outbreak of human avian flu.
"I do not know when. I do not know where. But I do know it will come sometime," said David Nabarro, the UN official in charge of overseeing efforts against avian flu. He wasspeaking to reporters at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.
Governments have started have started stockpiling Tamiflu as a treatment for the H5N1 form of the bird flu virus.
Meanwhile the World Health Organisation's regional director for the western Pacific region, Shigeru Omi, said the virus' arrival in Europe had stepped up efforts to get rid of the disease.
"I believe that the momentum that is now building up will give us a chance to change the course of history and head off a pandemic caused by the H5N1 virus," Omi told a newsconference in Manila. "Of course, I have no illusions about the danger the world is in, because we are dealing with a
virus that is unpredictable, firmly entrenched and continuing to spread."
Omi said the virus's geographical spread was "prodigious", reaching from South-East Asia to the very doorstep of Europe.
"All attempts to bring it under control in South-East Asia have failed," he added.
It has been early two years after H5N1 appeared in poultry in Thailand and Viet Nam.