Bird flu backtrack

Greece attempted yesterday to convince its Balkan neighbors to lift their bans on poultry imports after confirming that bird flu had not been found in the country, as questions mounted about why the disease had supposedly been detected last week. The government yesterday embarked on a damage-limitation exercise when it admitted that the alarm that was raised about bird flu having reached Greece on Monday actually proved false. In letters to the governments of Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonian (FYROM) and Bulgaria, which have all banned imports of Greek poultry due to bird flu fears, Athens asked for the restrictions to be lifted. The Greek government claims that new blood samples from the dead turkeys on the eastern Aegean island of Oinouses were sent to the Center for Infectious Diseases in Thessaloniki and they tested negative for the disease. «After this development, it is certain the banning measures which you have adopted at the expense of Greece… are totally unjustified and should be withdrawn,» stated the letters. There was still no clear indication, however, of how one of the Oinouses turkeys tested positive for bird flu last week. Experts said it was obvious that the disease had not reached Greece. «We do not have and never had bird flu in Greece, as this extremely infectious virus would have made its presence known, mainly with the death of large numbers of birds,» Professor Giorgos Koptopoulos of the Veterinary School at Athens University told Sunday’s Kathimerini. The poultry industry, which has been hit in the pocket over the last few days, is now likely to demand answers about how the bird flu scare came about in Greece. The consumption of poultry is estimated to have dropped by around 70 percent last week. As a result, some 10,000 tons of chicken meat which had already been produced has gone to waste and meat from some 20 million slaughtered chickens is also expected to be thrown out before it even reaches stores. The bird flu scare has seen pharmacies and drug companies do brisk business as some 1.48 million flu jabs were snapped up in the last two weeks compared to 1.1 million during all of September and November last year.