Bird Flu Alarm

2006-02-27-Bird flu outbreak threatens health of French poultry industry

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-02-27-Bird flu outbreak threatens health of French poultry industry

The discovery of bird flu in a French turkey farm in the Ain region last week is threatening to harm the large poultry industry of the country with Hong Kong and Japan having banned the import of poultry products from the European country. Japan is also threatening to ban such products from The Netherlands in view of the H5N1 scare.

The move has major implications for the poultry industry of France, which at US$ 9.6 billion annually is the biggest in the European Union. The Netherlands comes next with poultry exports worth US$2.4 billion per year.

Hong Kong's Food and Environmental Hygiene Department spokesperson Brenda Chan, said that the city has suspended the processing of applications for import of French poultry products for the time being. She added that Hong Kong officials would be 'in contact with French authorities to follow up on the matter'. How long the ban on France would stay is not clear yet.

France's domestic consumption of poultry has fallen by 30 per cent, in spite of French President Jacques Chirac's assurances that it is safe to eat chicken. "..The virus in question ... is automatically destroyed by cooking. So there is strictly no danger," he said while attending the 43rd agriculture trade show in Paris. "Unfortunately you can see a completely unjustified sort of total panic developing. There is no danger in eating poultry and eggs," he added.

Also present at the occasion was Japan's agriculture minister, Shoichi Nakagawa, who said he hoped the French authorities were taking adequate steps to eradicate the virus from the country. "I am sure that French producers are responding correctly to our wishes and that this incident will not affect the relationship between France and Japan," he said.

The bans are likely to lead to major financial losses for the 200,000 French farms that raise 900 million birds annually.

Meanwhile, the farm in Ain where the outbreak was reported has been sealed. Around 11,000 birds in the farm died of avian flu and the rest were culled. The owner of the farm, Daniel Clair, and his family, comprising his wife and an 8-year-old son, have been quarantined and are being administered Tamiflu. His 11-year-old daughter, who was away when the outbreak occurred, has been kept away from the farm.

One theory about how the virus traveled to the farm is that it might have come from duck droppings on the bales of straw that Clair had placed in his indoor pens housing the poultry. The area within two miles of the farm has been cordoned off and is being disinfected for the virus.

Bird flu, which has emerged in around 14 countries in February, is moving very fast across the globe, leading to the death of millions of birds. In addition, it has also infected 170 humans, 92 of which died due to the virus. Even though all human infections have come from birds, medical experts fear that the H5N1 virus might mutate into a strain that might take the human-to-human transmission route.

Understanding Avian Influenza