Avian Influenza: EFSA to provide scientific update on animal health and welfare

The Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is presently carrying out an scientific evaluation on the animal health and welfare aspects of Avian Influenza (AI). This opinion will be considered at the Panel’s next meeting on 13-14th September 2005 with a view to providing additional scientific support to the European Commission and Member States in addressing this issue.

Avian influenza is an infectious disease primarily affecting birds. The viruses which cause AI can be divided into two groups based on the severity of the disease they cause. Highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI*) may result in mortality within a flock as high as 100%, especially in chickens and turkeys. Low pathogenic viruses or LPAI** either cause a much milder form of the disease or do not even lead to clinical signs. AI can occasionally spread to other animals and humans, usually following direct contact with infected birds.

Recent outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry in Asia have raised concerns about the risk of human transmission, including possible implications for food safety. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there is no epidemiological information to date which suggests that the disease can be transmitted to humans through contaminated food. Normal cooking temperatures will inactivate the virus if present in foods. WHO recommends that following good food hygiene practices for the safe handling, preparation and cooking of foods will also help avoid the spread of the AI virus through food in outbreak areas. EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) supports the WHO recommendations with respect to food safety and will continue to actively monitor the situation and assess any new data that may become available at a future date with a view to providing further scientific advice as required.

EFSA’s AHAW Panel is currently summarising the available evidence of AI being introduced into the European Union, the possible infection routes amongst animals and the susceptibility of different animal species. EFSA has been working very closely with the European Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and international organisations in collecting and sharing data on AI and has participated regularly in meetings on this issue. EFSA will publish further information on AI following a review of scientific information by its AHAW Panel at its forthcoming meeting on 13-14th September.

Notes to editors

EFSA provides independent scientific advice on all matters related to food and feed safety, including animal health and welfare and plant protection. EFSA’s mandate with regard to animal health and welfare concerns primarily food producing animals. It is within this context that EFSA has been asked by the European Commission to carry out a scientific evaluation of the animal health and welfare aspects of AI.

* Many strains of HPAI exist, amongst which the H5N1 strain which is now present in South East Asia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Russia (Siberia).

** Many strains of LPAI also exist.

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