Europe Bans U.S. Poultry Due to Bird Flu

The European Union banned the import of all poultry products from the United States on Tuesday following the outbreak of a highly contagious strain of avian influenza (search) in Texas.

The EU joined South Korea in banning all American poultry products. Russia's veterinary service said Tuesday it had banned poultry imports only from Texas. The Philippines also was considering a ban.

EU Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner David Byrne said the decision cuts off imports of live chickens, turkeys and eggs. Chicken and turkey meat are also banned although the EU currently does not import any due to differences in vaccination policies.

"It is not as virulent as the outbreak in Asia, but nevertheless it's a highly contagious virus and therefore does require an immediate response from the EU," Byrne told reporters during a meeting of EU agriculture ministers. "We want to ensure there is no risk posed."

The flu found in Texas is not the same strain that has killed at least 22 people in Asia, said Dr. Ron DeHaven of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (search) says it poses little threat to humans.

Byrne said 25 percent of Europe's imported eggs come from the United States, worth some $25 million in trade annually. The EU also imports $3.15 million worth of day-old chicks, or around 800,000 per year, most of which are turkeys.

The majority of the exports come from Eastern Seaboard states, however, and not from Texas, officials said.

Byrne said the U.S.-wide ban could be reduced to Texas if U.S. authorities prove they have contained the outbreak. He said the ban would be reviewed by the EU's veterinary experts before March 23, when it expires.

Russia, America's largest poultry export market, previously had banned imports from Delaware. Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev has said that the temporary ban could be expanded to the entire United States if avian flu spins out of control.

The Texas outbreak is the first time since 1983-84 that the so-called high-pathogenic strain (search) of bird flu has been found in the United States.

Two other strains of bird flu have turned up in recent weeks in the East. One was detected at a farm in Pennsylvania; the other at two farms in Delaware and at live bird markets in New Jersey. There was no known connection between those outbreaks and the one in Texas, DeHaven said. None of those strains resembles the H5N1 virus that has jumped to humans in Asia.

The EU had its own outbreak of bird flu last year, which resulted in the culling of 30 million chickens and other birds in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.