Bird flu cases rise as farmers come under scrutiny

Two more cases of deadly bird flu were confirmed yesterday in wild swans found in Greece, taking the total to six, as authorities slapped a heavy fine on a poultry farmer for not locking up his flock amid fears the disease could spread to chickens. The Agricultural Ministry said yesterday that a European Union laboratory in England had confirmed that the two birds, both from northern Greece, had tested positive for the H5N1 strain of avian flu, which has killed some 90 people, mostly in Asia. The ministry said that it did not plan to take any additional measures. «We are already taking the necessary health and veterinary measures in the area, as decreed by European and Greek law,» the deputy prefect of Thessaloniki, Yiannis Bikos, told Kathimerini. Quarantines have been set up in the areas where bird flu has been found and checks are being made on poultry farms within a 10-kilometer radius. Poultry farmers have been ordered not to allow their flocks to roam freely and authorities were keen to show yesterday that they would clamp down on any offenders. Local officials in Halkidiki fined one disobedient farmer 6,000 euros after discovering that he let his chickens and ducks loose in his yard even though he assured authorities he had slaughtered the birds. The fine was based on a 1997 law which obliges farmers to comply with health regulations when there is the danger of disease spreading. The law allows farmers who do not comply to be fined up to 30,000 euros. Poultry farmers are concerned that the bird flu outbreak is having a serious impact on their industry, as poultry and egg sales have dropped since the virus was first detected in Greece last week. Farming representatives met with Agricultural Development Minister Evangelos Bassiakos yesterday to discuss the possibility of being compensated for their losses by the state. Bassiakos said he would take up the matter at a meeting of his EU counterparts on Monday. The farmers said that the Economy and Finance Ministry had pledged to give them five-year loans and to increase the amount of emergency aid from the 7 million euros that has already been promised them. Three people were admitted for bird flu tests in Serres yesterday, while the same hospital said that tests on a 71-year-old hunter had proved negative. A 78-year-old woman in Edessa was also found not to have contracted bird flu.

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