The deadliest strain of bird flu has now infected European chickens. As many as 10 of the birds were contaminated by a sick swan at a wildlife sanctuary in Austria. All the birds were being held there as a pre-cautionary measure and none were meant for human consumption. Under pressure from France and the Netherlands, EU animal health experts meeting in Brussels have given farmers permission to vaccinate millions of birds against the virus.
But EU spokesman Philip Todt said vaccinated birds would face export restrictions: “Vaccinated live poultry can not be exported or moved to another member state in the EU or third countries. Fresh meat and meat products from the vaccinated poultry can be marketed in the EU and dispatched to third countries,” he said.
France is Europe’s biggest poultry producer. It alone wants to give shots to as many as 900,000 geese and ducks. For the time being there are no reports of any farm birds being infected with the flu in Europe. While the vaccines will help birds resist the disease it is also being seen as a way of reassuring uneasy consumers.
In some parts of the EU chicken sales have dropped by between 30 and 50 percent. That is the case in Italy where suppliers are throwing away their unwanted chicken meat and eggs. Italian supermarkets have launched a publicity campaign to persuade the public that both are perfectly safe.