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WHO Warns Against Indiscriminate Poultry Bans

UN Agency Warns Against Indiscriminate Poultry Bans In Response To Bird Flu

As countries around the world prepare for a potentially deadly human pandemic of bird flu, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization today warned against general and pre-emptive bans on poultry imports that do not distinguish between infected and non-infected countries.

“Trade restrictions to safeguard human and animal health should be imposed only in proportion to the risk involved and… they should be removed promptly when no longer needed,” FAO said in a statement, noting that some bans cover poultry from all countries, even those that have never experienced or are considered free of the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus.

Such action increases the vulnerability of international global markets to price shocks and contradicts the spirit of the World Trade Organization (WTO), standards set by the intergovernmental World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and recommendations made by FAO, it added.

But at the same time, countries exporting poultry products must ensure that any incidence of H5N1 is immediately transmitted to all trading partners and necessary steps are taken to limit its spread, it said of the virus that has recently spread to Europe from South-East Asia, where the current outbreak began.

“Bans on poultry products from disease-free countries increase uncertainties in the global meat market, which is already threatened by potential supply shortages and rising meat prices because of continuing BSE-restrictions on North American beef shipments,” FAO noted, referring to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or Mad Cow Disease.

“Markets have also been affected by recent import restrictions on meat from Brazil, the largest meat exporting country, in response to recent cases of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD),” it said.

FAO reminded consumers that avian influenza is not a food-borne disease and that the bird flu virus is killed by the heat of normal cooking. “There is no risk of getting avian influenza from properly cooked poultry and eggs,” it added.

Ever since the first human case of bird flu, linked to widespread poultry outbreaks in Viet Nam and Thailand, was reported in January last year, UN health officials have warned that the H5N1 virus could evolve into a global influenza pandemic if it mutates into a form which could transmit easily between people.

The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people worldwide. In the present outbreak so far, there have been more than 121 reported human H5N1 cases, 62 of them fatal, all in South-East Asia. Some 140 million domestic birds have died or been culled in an effort to curb the spread.

FAO, the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the OIE and the World Bank are co-organizing a meeting in Geneva early next month to draw up a global picture of the threat and identify the next steps both to control the disease in animals and to prepare for a possible human pandemic.

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