The European Commission convened in Brussels a meting of EU veterinary experts from all Member States to discuss the avian influenza situation in Asia and Russia (Siberia) and which steps should be taken in order to increase vigilance against the disease spreading to the EU. The Commission has asked the Member States to step up surveillance and will make financing available in order to facilitate this effort. A number of actions were agreed at the meeting, including a review of contingency plans and increased vigilance to ensure that existing measures such as import bans are fully enforced. However, a generalised ban on keeping poultry outdoors was not considered proportionate to the current risk of disease introduction through migratory birds.
Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said: “We clearly want to do our utmost to prevent the spread of this devastating epidemic to the EU. We will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that the most appropriate risk-reducing measures are in place.”
The expert group discussed the current avian influenza situation in Asia, including Russia (Siberia), and agreed that there is cause for serious concern. However, there is not enough information available to determine to what extent the spread of the disease might have been caused by wild birds. There was an extensive discussion on the possibility of the disease spreading into the EU via migratory birds. Taking into account existing knowledge of the migratory routes of the species of birds that might pose a risk of spreading the virus, the group concluded that the immediate risk is probably remote or low, depending on the area of the EU. However, a number of risk-reducing actions were agreed, as outlined below.
The EU started intensive surveillance of domestic and wild birds already in 2003. The expert group reviewed the surveillance measures which were put in place at that time in the Member States and which have been adjusted every year since then. It recommended that all Member States, urgently review and intensify the surveillance programmes already planned for 2005/06 by increasing sampling of migratory waterfowl along the flyways that could pose a risk of disease introduction. There should be improved cooperation between the Member States, co-ordinated by the Commission.
An additional meeting of the experts has been scheduled for early September, at which the Commission will coordinate the intensified surveillance, for which Community funding is available.
All Member States have measures in place, as required by EU law, to ensure that if avian influenza should occur, it would be detected and rapidly eradicated in poultry flocks. The key to limiting the extent of any outbreak is early detection and rapid action.
The expert group noted the specific preventative measures implemented or announced in the poultry sector of some Member States in response to the outbreak in Russia, but considered a general ban on keeping poultry outdoors to be a disproportionate measure at this time. However, bio-security measures (eg disinfection of vehicles moving between farms) implemented at farm level should be reviewed in all Member States and be reinforced wherever necessary based on a case-by-case risk assessment. This assessment should consider the migratory routes of waterfowl and situations where wild birds might get in close contact with domestic birds (eg at ponds). In at risk situations, vaccination might also be considered.
The expert group also recommended that Member States should introduce additional awareness programmes encouraging farmers to improve bio-security measures; review and update the contingency plans for avian flu already in place according to EU legislation and ensure that existing measures and controls at the EU’s external borders are fully applied as regards both commercial consignments and personal imports by individuals and particularly regarding pet birds. In the contingency plans, the need to provide adequate protection for poultry workers at risk of infection should be fully considered. Finally, proper and reliable information on poultry products should be provided to consumers to prevent any lack of consumer confidence.