NEWS

Bird flu tests are negative

European Union experts arrived in Greece yesterday to help investigate a suspected case of bird flu on an Aegean island as initial test results from England proved negative for the disease being present in the country, indicating that the whole issue may have been a false alarm. The three European Union experts reached the island of Oinouses and began to take more samples from a poultry farm where Greek authorities said on Monday they found a turkey with antibodies to the H5 flu. The experts from the European Commission’s food and veterinary office will help local officials with the investigation after much confusion has reigned over the fate of the first sample taken. Government officials have given mixed accounts this week of what samples have been sent to the EU for further tests. The mix-up has also prompted a Supreme Court prosecutor to launch an investigation into the procedures followed by authorities. Some sources have suggested that the Agricultural Development Ministry bungled the investigation by not tagging the turkey that showed positive in the tests. The EU, however, played down the confusion yesterday, saying that there is no reason to complain about cooperation with local authorities. Meanwhile, a EU reference laboratory in Weybridge, England, said yesterday that preliminary tests for bird flu in Greece had come up negative. The news will naturally please Greece and the broader region but raises further questions about the quality of the initial tests which took place in Greece before the samples were sent abroad. News that Greece had a case of bird flu flashed across the globe in minutes on Monday and there are fears that this may have unnecessarily dented the country’s image on food safety abroad. The precautionary ban on poultry exports from the eastern Aegean islands around Oinouses will remain until further tests can confirm that avian flu is not in Greece. «At this point, we cannot exclude the presence of avian flu in Greece and the area,» said EU spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde.