24th Jun 2017

MEPs question slowness of EU's steps against bird flu

EUOBSERVER / STRASBOURG – MEPs have strongly criticised the EU’s slow progress in preparing for a possible breakout of the avian flu pandemic in Europe.

Defending the EU’s action, health commissioner Markos Kyprianou told the agriculture parliamentary committee on Monday (27 September) that national governments have stepped up efforts to hammer out a proposed legislative package on bird flu by the end of December.

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"Some member states have voluntarily adopted measures proposed in the directive, well in advance of it coming into force", he said, adding "We should be proud as the EU is the only region where enhanced programmes of this kind have been approved".

The EU executive has agreed to initially provide around 0.8 million euro to member states to boost co-funding of the surveillance plans agreed in Brussels.

However, Mr Kyprianou pointed out "No matter what measures we take over here, it is impossible to protect Europe completely if we don't solve the problem at its source".

He said the EU is preparing a donor conference to help South Asian countries implement the measures agreed at international level, as the majority of the most affected countries are also very poor.

Vaccination not enough

But several MEPs in the committee have questioned the slow progress in dealing with the possibility of the emergence of bird flu-related transmuting so it can affect humans.

Spanish MEP Maria Isabel Salinas asked if the pharmaceutical industry should be offered incentives to motivate it into preparing the necessary vaccination, given that there are only 14 laboratories in Europe capable of developing it.

The commissioner said that only three out of six companies have so far showed interest in preparing such a vaccination, but the EU is proposing special agreements between member states and the industry, such as reducing the administrative procedures to approve new vaccines or increased orders for seasonal flu vaccine.

Stricter controls of tourists?

Several MEPs also referred to the "laxity" on the part of some member states towards tourists coming from the affected region and the illegal import of food products.

"If you come to Australia or New Zealand and get caught for bringing along some cheese or sausages, you almost feel like a criminal. But there are no major controls at European airports, even though previous animal diseases have been caused by illegal import", argued Dutch MEP Jan Albert Maat.

But the commissioner countered that it is up to member states to implement the existing measures regulating both movement of people and food product imports, and Brussels is not planning to introduce any stricter rules.

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