Armenian President Meets with Agriculture Minister to Discuss Bird Flu

YEREVAN (Armenpress/RFE/RL)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian conducted a working meeting Tuesday with the minister of agriculture David Lokian and discussed a set of measures to prevent the spread of the deadly strain of H5N1 bird flu to Armenia from neighboring countries.

The minister briefed the president on the latest results of a joint study conducted by Armenian and US experts–who have not any cases of bird flu in Armenia.

During the meeting the sides also discussed the creation of about 200 small and medium-sized agriculture processing enterprises. President Kocharian said it is necessary to support the processing enterprises by giving them opportunity to get credits with low interest rate.

Authorities in Yerevan already have a plan of action against H5N1. It envisions–among other things–instructions on how to cull poultry in cases of emergency–training of officials in charge of veterinary security–and purchase of special laboratory equipment for quickly detecting the virus.

Two experts from Armenia’s State Veterinary Inspectorate have already undergone relevant training at the FAO headquarters in Budapest and two others will do so next month.

Among the countries that have confirmed bird flu cases are neighboring Turkey and Azerbaijan. The latter detected two outbreaks of the virus among wild birds earlier this month. Similar cases are being reported across Europe on a practically daily basis.

Government officials and disease experts say the risks facing Armenia will grow considerably with the start early next month of the spring migration of wild birds–the main carriers of H5N1. Armenia’serves as a transit point for them.

Baghian repeated the government’s pledge to form and send special teams of epidemiologists to locations traditionally used by wild birds for nesting. "Possible cases of bird deaths and other extraordinary phenomena would be immediately reported to local veterinary services," he said.

The official also sought to ease Armenian consumers’ lingering concerns about eating chickens–eggs and poultry products saying that local poultry farms are being regularly inspected by his agency. "Those products are sold with appropriate safety certificates," he said.

The government imposed a near complete ban on poultry imports on January 3 following the deaths of three children in a village in eastern Turkey located less than 60 kilometers from the Armenian border. They died after reportedly contracting the disease from domestic chickens.

The Armenian authorities have also heightened sanitary controls at the border crossings and carried out a mass vaccination of fowl in villages close to the Turkish border.

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