Dáil Éireann - Volume 582 - 24 March, 2004
Written Answers. - Poultry Diseases.
Mr. Timmins Mr. Timmins
84. Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food about the avian flu; the impact it had on production and sales of poultry here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9395/04]
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Mr. Walsh: Avian influenza is an infectious disease of birds. Migratory waterfowl, most notably wild duck, are the natural reservoir of avian influenza viruses. They are also the most resistant to infection. Domestic poultry, including chickens and turkeys, are particularly susceptible to epidemics of rapidly fatal influenza.
Avian influenza viruses rarely affect humans and do not normally infect species other than birds. The virus has on occasion been isolated in humans. In Vietnam the H5N1 virus was isolated from a number of patients who died. There is no evidence that it can be transmitted from poultry to humans, other than by direct contact with infected birds. The risk from poultry meat to humans is negligible as the virus is destroyed during meat maturation, cooking and by stomach acids.
With effect from 23 January the European Commission invoked safeguard decisions to control the importation from those south east Asian countries approved to trade with the EU. These safeguard decisions ban importation of: live poultry, ratites, farmed and wild game and hatching eggs of these species of birds, including pet birds; meat preparations, meat products consisting of or containing meat of these species as well as eggs for consumption; raw pet food and unprocessed feed material containing any part of those species; non-treated game trophies from any birds and unprocessed feathers.
Thailand is the only country in the region currently approved to trade in poultry meat with the EU. The importation of poultry meat slaughtered prior to 31 December 2003, as well as cooked poultry meat, is permitted. A condition of importation is that the date of slaughter of fresh poultry meat or, in the case of cooked poultry meat, the specific heat treatment it has undergone must be certified on the health certificate. Certification of processing undergone is also required in respect of feathers imported from the region.
Avian influenza outbreaks were subsequently reported in certain regions of Texas in the US and British Columbia in Canada. The detected strains are highly contagious in poultry and birds and are known as H5N2 and H7N3, respectively. Both are different from that causing the epidemic in Asia. Current knowledge suggests that the risk to public health posed by these strains is inferior to the strain in Asia. In view of the animal health risk the EU Commission also introduced bans on importation similar to those at present in  operation for Thailand. These took effect from 25 February 2004 in respect of the US and 11 March for Canada. This year there are derogations in respect of imports of poultry meat produced from birds slaughtered in the US before 27 January and before 17 February in respect of Canada and also in respect of cooked poultry meat. Conditions similar to those applying in respect of Thailand are required with regard to the health certification of consignments.
All consignments being imported into the EU must first be presented at an EU border inspection post. A documentary and identity check takes place and physical checks are carried out at frequencies laid down in EU law. Sampling for laboratory analysis for the purpose of safeguarding human and animal health is also carried out where required. Once imported meat has met all of the required conditions it is released for free circulation within the Community. Copies of the BIP clearance document and the health certificate must accompany the consignment to its destination.
No official statistics are available yet. There are some indications that demand was affected in late January and during February but it has now recovered. It may have been as a result of the avian flu scare in the Far East. I expect that there will not be a significant adverse effect on the consumption of poultry meat here.
I am keen to ensure that consumers of poultry meat have a right to the maximum amount of information about food offered for sale to allow them make an informed choice. Recently I introduced two statutory instruments concerning the labelling of poultry meat. I took account of the recommendations of the food labelling group and a recent consumer survey I commissioned to ascertain consumer labelling preferences. The first regulation requires poultry meat, loose and pre-packaged, originating in a country outside of the EU to bear an indication of its country of origin when offered for sale in a retail premises. The second regulation requires information on class, price per unit weight, condition and slaughterhouse details on loose poultry meat, or non pre-packaged meat, to be provided to the consumer. Labelling indications was compulsory for pre-packaged poultry meat but it had not been a requirement to provide the information for poultry meat sold loose.
Dáil Éireann 582 Written Answers. Poultry Diseases.