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EU pledges more bird flu aid

By Chris Mercer , 18-Oct-2006

Concerns that bird flu may return to ravage the poultry industry and humans have prompted the EU to invest €28m in new research to better spot and control outbreaks.

The European Commission will fund 17 research projects covering a range of subjects, including new vaccines for birds, an early warning system, increased understanding of how the virus works and a network for monitoring migratory birds.

The funding follows an initial €21m already made available under the EU's Fifth and Sixth Research Framework Programmes.

Outbreaks of bird flu virus H5N1 have subsided after a flurry of cases across Europe earlier this year, but experts have warned the deadly disease is likely to re-emerge.

That could be bad news for Europe's poultry industry, which suffered rapid drops in consumption of up to 70 per cent in Italy and 10 per cent in northern Europe generally at the start of 2006. Consumer fears pushed down prices as a poultry supply glut grew.

The new EU projects place heavy emphasis on international co-operation. Various countries, including Russia, China, the US and Vietnam, will act as partners on different research.

"The involvement of so many international partners shows that Europe is leading the global fight against avian and pandemic flu," said European science and research commissioner, Janez Potoènik.

Poor international co-ordination was a main reason why the H5N1 bird flu virus spread so quickly through Asia and Europe earlier this year, a report in the UK-based Avian Pathology Journal said in June.

Some experts have warned that a lack of resources for dealing with outbreaks in developing countries could prove a damaging weakness in the global fight against bird flu.

The European Commission said technology transfer to developing countries would be at least one of the new research projects it was funding.

A new crisis management centre to fight outbreaks of bird flu and other animal diseases around the world was also set up in Rome by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) last week.

Any of the centre's 15 specialists and vets could be deployed anywhere in the world within 48 hours, the FAO said, adding it would work alongside the World Organisation for Animal Health based in Paris.

Dr Jacques Diouf, FAO director-general, said: "One of the lessons FAO has learned in three years of leading the international fight against Avian Influenza is that speed is of the essence.

"Alert must be lightning quick. Reaction must be immediate in combatting a disease which can move, across borders and continents, terrifyingly fast."

The centre will be headed by Dr Karin Schwabenbauer, former chief veterinary officer in Germany.

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