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27.10.2005 General News

FAO: Fears of bird flu transmission largely unfounded

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Accra, Oct. 27, GNA - The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on Thursday expressed concern about general and pre-emptive bans on poultry imports adopted in response to avian influenza. "Import bans on poultry that do not distinguish between infected and non-infected countries are contrary to the spirit of the World Trade Organization (WTO), standards set by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and recommendations made by FAO," the UN Agency said in a statement received in Accra.

As countries establish precautionary import bans on poultry to prevent possible bird flu outbreaks, FAO said that in some cases, "the bans include poultry from all countries, even those considered to be free of highly pathogenic avian influenza and those that have never experienced an outbreak of H5N1."

"Countries arbitrarily banning the import of poultry products from non-infected countries are increasing the vulnerability of international global markets to price shocks," FAO said.

It cautioned countries that "trade restrictions to safeguard human and animal health should be imposed only in proportion to the risk involved and that they should be removed promptly when they were no longer needed".

However, it said, countries exporting poultry products must also ensure that any incidence of the disease was immediately announced to all trading partners and necessary steps were taken to limit the spread of the disease.

"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 said. "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)."

According to FAO, recent outbreaks of trans-boundary diseases and the imposition of disease-related export restrictions had an immediate impact on global meat trade in the 2004/2005.

International meat prices, as represented in the FAO meat price index, which is calculated using trade-weighted indicative international prices, had risen to 10-year high, it noted.

FAO said consumer responses to potential bird flu outbreaks were already having a disruptive impact on industries in Europe and beyond. FAO reminded consumers that avian influenza was not a food-borne disease and that the heat of normal cooking could kill the bird flu virus.

"There is no risk of getting avian influenza from properly cooked poultry and eggs."

Dr Lawson Ahadzie, Acting Director of Public Health, Ministry of Health, on Tuesday warned that the avian or bird flu that had engulfed Asian countries would have a devastating impact on the socio-economic development should it emerge in Ghana.

He said there was a possibility that the flu, a contagious disease of animal caused by viruses, could enter into the country and cause severe diseases in humans, who might contract it from infected poultry. Speaking at an inter-sectoral emergency meeting on the situation of the flu, Dr Ahadzie said spreading of the disease should be of much concern because "if given enough opportunities, it will change into a form that is highly infectious to humans and spread easily from person to person. Such a change could mark the start of a global outbreak". There are two forms of the flu, the mild one that commonly causes mild symptoms like ruffled feathers and a drop in egg production and the severe form that affects multiple organs and may lead to 100 per cent mortality within 48 hours.

According to Dr Ahadzie, the flu had currently infected more than 100 people in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam killing more than half of them.

He warned that once international spread began, pandemics were considered unstoppable as they spread very rapidly by coughing or sneezing.

He said the influenza pandemics were remarkable events that could rapidly infect virtually all countries.

Ghana has banned the import of poultry products and feathers from several European and Asian countries.