The European Commission Tuesday slapped a one-month ban on imports of chicks and eggs from the United States after the discovery of bird flu in Texas.
A Texas chicken flock was diagnosed with an “extremely infectious and fatal” form of bird flu on Monday. Officials are monitoring farm workers in the area as a precaution against the first U.S. outbreak of a severe form of the disease in 20 years.
An outbreak of a different strain of bird flu in Asia has caused at least 22 deaths and prompted the slaughter of tens of millions of fowl.
“We want to make sure there’s no risk posed by the imports,” EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne told a news conference, adding that the ban would remain in place until March 23.
“It’s important we adopt an approach which is consistent with the protection of animal health...(and) only take such measures which are proportionate to the risk this issue presents to the EU.”
The United States is a major poultry exporter to the EU. A quarter of annual EU egg imports come from the U.S., some 13,000 tonnes of eggs worth 20 million euros ($25.17 million) in trade.
Milder forms of bird flu were found in poultry in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey this month. The EU has also banned the import of pet birds from the U.S. to prevent the spread of the virus to the 15-nation bloc.
Byrne said on Tuesday that half the egg imports were consumed while the remainder were hatching eggs. The EU also imports 450,000 day-old chicks a year from the U.S., mostly turkeys, accounting for 50 percent of the 15-nation bloc’s imports.
The EU does not import poultry meat from the U.S. because bird carcasses are disinfected with chlorine after slaughter, officials said.
EU veterinary experts will review the measure at a meeting from March 2-3. EU farm ministers will decide whether or not to extend the ban at their meeting on March 23.
The EU already has a ban on imports of Thai poultry.
Officials have said the strain in Texas was considered a low health threat to humans and different from the one blamed for the recent deaths in Asia.
The Asian outbreak has alarmed scientists, who say it shows that a deadly strain of bird flu can jump species. Bangkok officials have also confirmed the deaths of two house cats from bird flu, the first domesticated mammals known to have contracted the disease in this outbreak.