Bird Flu Scare Prompts Armenia to Ban Turkish Imports

YEREVAN (Armenpress/RFE/RL)–In an effort to block the spread of bird flu from Turkey to Armenia–Armenia’s customs service imposed on Wednesday a temporary ban on imports of a broad variety of goods from Turkey.

The ban refers to all kinds of chicken meat–eggs–sugar–feather–sausage–canned meat–macaroni–sweets–cakes–flour–and some other goods.

Armenian authorities remained on a high alert over a possible spread of bird flu from neighboring Turkey–saying that preventive measures against the virus continue to be taken across the country.

"Given the situation in Turkey–we continue to take all necessary measures to keep the virus out of Armenia," Grisha Baghian–head of the Agriculture Ministry’s State Veterinary Inspectorate–told reporters.

Those measures include a mandatory disinfection of all vehicles arriving from Iran and Georgia. Also–teams of doctors deployed at the Armenian border crossings by the Health Ministry in Yerevan conduct selective examinations of individuals entering the country.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned on Wednesday that avian influenza could become endemic in Turkey–where it has already killed three people and infected at least 15 others in 19 provinces–unless strict measures are taken to battle and contain the deadly virus. It warned also that neighboring countries are at risk and a centrally-coordinated control campaign is urgently needed. FAO has sent a team of experts to Turkey to support the authorities in their bird flu control efforts.

FAO called on neighboring countries such as Armenia–Azerbaijan–Georgia–Iraq–Iran and Syria to be on high alert–to apply surveillance and control measures and to ensure that the public is fully informed about the avian influenza risk.

Local health authorities have not identified any instances of the deadly disease in Armenia’so far despite a surge in the number of chicken deaths reported by local villagers. "We have already examined more than a hundred carcasses of wild and domestic birds at the National Veterinary Laboratory in the last two months," Baghian said. "We did not detect bird flu in the process."

President Robert Kocharian–according to a spokeswoman–is informed by senior government officials about relevant developmen’s on a daily basis.

Elizabeth Danielian–an official at the Yerevan office of the World Health Organization–acknowledged that the situation remains under control despite the proximity of a village in eastern Turkey where three children were killed by the virus last week. "We can’t say that the situation has become so grave that Armenia is in serious danger," she said. "We have not reached that point yet. But it is necessary to study Turkey’s experience–draw lessons–and perhaps take more active steps."

The bird flu scare has already cut the consumption of poultry and eggs in Armenia–the bulk of them locally produced. According to some unofficial estimates–sales of those products have dropped by half in recent days.

But one of Armenia’s largest fowl firms–Max Group–estimates the loss at just 15 percent. "Consumers are concerned about small manufacturers and villagers–but they trust larger manufacturers," sales director Hayk Martirosian said.

Martirosian was also confident about the company’s immunity to bird flu–arguing that its main poultry factory located 20 kilometers north of Yerevan has been in quarantine for the past three months. "We have further toughened safety measures there," he said. "We don’t have concerns because we operate with European technology and are totally immune [to the virus]. It can’t penetrate our farm."

The potentially lethal H5N1 strain of the disease has already killed at least 76 people in six countries–almost all of which in Asia. Many scientists believe it is transmitted by migratory birds–and fear that the virus may mutate to allow human-to-human transmission–triggering a possible pandemic.

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