European Union veterinary experts on Wednesday backed plans to boost surveillance of migratory birds and stricter bans on imports as officials scrambled to find ways to curb the spread of deadly bird flu in Europe.
With Austria and Germany saying wild birds in their countries tested positive for deadly H5N1, the European Commission approved more than $2.26 million for surveillance programs and added testing to ensure early detection of bird flu outbreaks.
The panel of veterinary experts also backed plans to suspend the import of untreated feathers from all non-EU countries.
"The aim of these national surveillance programs is to provide early detection of cases of avian influenza, particularly in wild birds and poultry in the European Union," said EU spokesman Philip Tod.
He said samples need to be taken from both wild and domestic birds. The plan foresees testing 60,000 wild birds and 300,0000 domestic birds.
In other developments:
The EU experts, meeting for two days of bird flu talks, focused on additional measures EU governments can take to stop the spread of the virus, including boosting checks at farms and wetlands, Tod said.
All 25 EU governments last year signed up to guidelines to help prevent the spread of bird flu, including setting up protection zones in outbreak areas to halt the movement of farmed poultry or hunting of fowl. Culling is also carried out if needed.
On Wednesday, Gudjon Magnusson of the World Health Organization warned that five countries in or bordering western Europe have recorded large outbreaks: Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Romania and Turkey.
"It is up to us to see that avian flu doesn't become an epidemic in Europe," he said in Kiev, Ukraine.
David Nabarro, the U.N. coordinator for combatting bird flu, warned that Ukraine — where H5N1 has spread to 24 villages, with suspicious bird deaths in 18 others — is at high risk of further outbreaks.
"The threat is still there," he said in Kiev. "Avian influenza will continue to come to Ukraine ... health services must be ready and prepared to deal with people who are infected with avian flu and to be ready for the possible arrival of human-to-human transmission."