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EU Health Ministers To Meet Over Bird Flu Epidemic

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STRASBOURG, Feb 10 (AFP) - European Union health ministers will meet this week to take stock of measures aimed at stopping bird flu reaching the EU, health commissioner David Byrne said Tuesday.

The talks will cover the possibility of the EU stockpiling vaccines to innoculate poultry against diseases such as the bird flu ravaging Asia, Byrne told the European Parliament.

"The flu is an obvious example but it's not the only one," the Irish commissioner said.

Sources said the EU's Irish presidency decided to hold the informal meeting in response to strong pressure from France. The talks will be held over dinner at the Belgian foreign ministry.

"It will discuss coordination for what should be done if the animal virus mutates into a virus likely to affect humans," Byrne's spokeswoman Beate Gminder told AFP.

The EU has banned chicken imports from Thailand, the only Asian country to export poultry to the bloc.

But Byrne told the parliament that the EU did not plan to ban US poultry imports after an outbreak of bird flu was confirmed on a farm in the state of Delaware.

He said the US outbreak -- which has led to the cull of 12,000 chickens -- appeared to be weaker than the virulent strain that has killed at least 19 people in Thailand and Vietnam.

Byrne also warned that any attempt by Asian countries to cover up the extent of the bird flu would backfire, after being assured by the Thai government last month that there was no outbreak only for the authorities to confirm it later.

Noting a "lack of transparency" in Thailand, he said the EU ban on Thai poultry imports would only be lifted when the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation reports the outbreak is over.



COPYRIGHT 2004 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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