European Union farm ministers are meeting to discuss the issue of state aid to the poultry sector as bird flu spreads among wild birds across Europe. Under current rules, Brussels can co-finance 50 per cent of the cost of any required culling of birds or destruction of eggs.
The European Commission has imposed a ban on the import of live poultry and feathers from Turkey after the country reported an outbreak of avian flu. The Commission has already placed similar restrictions on poultry from Russia, Kazakhstan and large parts of Asia.
Authorities ordered a limited cull of poultry to halt the spread of H5N1 from wild birds to farm stocks, after two dead swans on the northern German island of Ruegen were found to be infected. The disease has also spread to the mainland, and experts have found a total of 61 cases.
Germany’s Defence Ministry sent 40 soldiers specialised in countering biological and chemical weapons to the island to help disinfect vehicles, equipment and people leaving the affected area.
Officials were still assessing how many of the island’s 400,000 domestic birds would be killed, or when the cull would begin.
The government said it wanted to step up its response to the bird flu threat by seeking permission from Brussels to undertake voluntary vaccination of free range chickens, which are most likely to come into contact with migratory birds.
The Netherlands ordered farmers to keep poultry inside to prevent bird flu spreading into the country.
While most of its 80m poultry are kept indoors, the Netherlands is concerned an outbreak among its 5.5m free-range birds could ravage the rest of the industry.
Fears of the disease arriving in birds migrating from Russia are particularly high in the country because it was badly hit by an outbreak of bird flu in 2003.
The spread of the virus two years ago among its nearly 2,000 poultry farmers led to the slaughter of 30m animals at a cost of hundreds of millions of euros.
France has confirmed that its first case of the lethal H5N1 bird flu virus was found in a dead wild duck near Lyon, marking the most westerly point the virus has reached in Europe.
The government launched a European action plan, imposing a 3km quarantine zone around the area where the virus was detected. Suspected cases of bird flu in 15 other dead wild birds in France are being examined.
The government has ordered poultry to be kept indoors to prevent contact with wild birds. France, a crossroads for migratory birds, plans to vaccinate any poultry that cannot be kept inside.
The UK government has insisted that an outbreak of the virus is not inevitable, but urged poultry keepers to house birds indoors if needed, and report suspicious deaths and take bio-security measures. The UK's agriculture ministry said it had no plans for restrictions on poultry farmers at present but that it was monitoring developments closely.
The National Farmers’ Union has told members to prepare to take poultry indoors at short notice and to look out for any dead or sick-looking wild birds. British doctors are to be schooled on how to handle an outbreak of bird flu if it spreads humans.
The UK's 10,465 surgeries will receive a package of information from the government to help tackle a flu pandemic, which some scientists warn is now inevitable. Ministers and officials have privately expressed the view that a bird flu pandemic poses a greater threat than terrorism.
The Department of Agriculture has discussed housing free-range birds inside to guard against avian flu and is keeping it under review. It has also put an early warning system in place to carry out surveillance for avian flu. The government is convening a group of experts to gather in Dublin to advise on avian flu control.
Italy said it was prepared to defy European Union limits on state aid for farming in order to come to the rescue of its beleaguered poultry farmers. Poultry prices fell by up to 70 per cent in recent days following the discovery of the deadly bird flu virus in wild swans in the south of Italy. The government of Silvio Berlusconi, who is seeking re-election in April, has been under pressure to help farmers.
Austrian authorities ordered all poultry and fowl kept indoors after signs that a wild swan found dead in Vienna had been infected with H5N1, health officials said.
In Romania, where H5N1 was detected in two villages, authorities wrapped up a cull of about 22,000 domestic birds in the village of Topraisar. Preliminary tests showed an H5 subtype of the bird flu virus in birds in two more villages near the Black Sea.
Romanian authorities have warned that the country could see human cases of the disease because it has a large number of small household farms in poor rural areas without good sanitation.
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