BRUSSELS, March 4, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission has called on Russia and another 40 or so countries to ease their blanket ban on poultry imports from France.
The EU executive argues the recent outbreak of bird flu on a farm in France has been successfully contained and that exports from the rest of the country are safe.
Among the countries currently barring French poultry imports are Russia and Japan, usually the biggest markets for the French poultry industry.
Philip Tod, a European Commission spokesman for animal health issues, said on March 3 that the bans should be confined to poultry originating from the single French region of Ain where the sometimes deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been found among domestic birds.
Tod indicated that the blanket ban on all French poultry does not breach the letter of international law, but does not respect its spirit.
"It's not an obligation but it is an expectation under the World Animal Health rules that all countries will take a proportionate approach to any restrictions and will apply the principle of regionalization," Tod said on March 4.
Flu Contained, Panic Uncontained
Michael Mann, a European Commission spokesman for agricultural matters, told RFE/RL that the bans were unjustified. "We don't think anyone should be restricting exports of poultry because poultry is perfectly safe," he said on March 2. "There is no bird flu on poultry farms in Europe except on one turkey farm in France, where all the birds have been slaughtered."
Mann said that "even if there is bird flu on farms, there is no danger of bird flu infection getting into the food chain" as "all poultry sold in European shops or exported by Europe is perfectly safe."
"And," he added, "if you cook poultry you don't get bird flu, quite simple."
Despite the European Commission's efforts to contain the panic, European consumers are turning away from poultry as the virus continues to spread around the globe. Sales of chicken meat in Italy are reported to have plummeted by 70 per cent following confirmation of the H5N1 virus in wild birds. The price of chicken meat is also falling.
France is the EU's biggest poultry exporter, and ranks fourth in the world. The losses that poultry farmers could potentially suffer are considerable. However, there is no sign yet of emergency EU aid for the poultry industry of the kind given to cattle farmers at the height of the outbreak of 'mad-cow disease' early this decade.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has issued a statement predicting tough times for the poultry industry worldwide.
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