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Last Updated: Friday, 23 January, 2004, 15:27 GMT
EU bans all Thai poultry imports
Hens being culled in Thailand
Thailand has culled a million hens
The EU has banned imports of Thai poultry in the wake of a bird flu outbreak that has spread to humans.

The ban - on all poultry and poultry products slaughtered after 1 January - comes into effect immediately.

The 15 member states of the EU are collectively the biggest importer of Thai poultry meat after Japan, which announced a ban on imports on Thursday.

Thai authorities confirmed on Friday that two boys had contracted the disease by touching infected carcasses.

Although the risk of importing the virus in meat or meat products is probably very low, the Commission wants to make sure that any possible transmission is avoided
European Commission

"All measures must be taken to protect the EU from the virus," the European Commission said in a statement.

It added: "Although the risk of importing the virus in meat or meat products is probably very low, the Commission wants to make sure that any possible transmission is avoided".

Imports of steamed poultry heated to 70 degrees C can continue as this process kills the virus.

Bird flu has been ravaging Asian flocks in recent weeks, but until now had only been known to have jumped to humans in Vietnam, where five people have died.

Cases of the disease have also been detected in poultry in recent weeks in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.

On Friday, Cambodia also reported an outbreak.

France impounds imports

Thailand is the only Asian country to export poultry meat to the EU - in the first 10 months of last year EU member states imported 128,000 metric tons.

No live poultry were imported.

Also on Friday, France decided to impound imports of fresh chicken from Thailand dated after 1 January 1.

The French government also said it had stepped up surveillance of passengers travelling from south-east Asia to check whether they were carrying fresh poultry products.

For more than a week Thailand denied it was suffering from bird flu, saying that a cull of one million chickens was caused by chicken cholera or bronchitis.

Only on Friday did the agriculture ministry confirm that chickens in Suphanburi province had tested positive for bird flu.

The Thai poultry industry brings in $1.3bn per year in export earnings, mainly from Japan and the EU.

Dire warnings

Scientists have warned that if the latest form of bird flu were to combine with human influenza it could be untreatable and lethal.

The World Health Organisation has said that in such an event the disease would be far worse than last year's outbreak of Sars.

The Lancet medical journal also issued a dire warning on Friday.

In an editorial, it said standard vaccines would be useless against the virus if it started spreading through humans.

At present, there is no evidence to suggest it can be passed on from one person to another.


SEE ALSO:
Thailand confirms human bird flu
23 Jan 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Bird flu could dent Thai trade
23 Jan 04  |  Business
Avian flu
14 Jan 04  |  Medical notes


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