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Flu, Cow Outbreaks Hurt Farms

As the U.S. poultry industry came under attack from foreign markets because of an outbreak of bird flu, the federal government was considering new steps to prevent any further instances of mad cow disease.

The European Union Tuesday banned the import of all poultry products from the United States following the outbreak of a highly contagious strain of avian influenza in Texas.

The EU joined South Korea in banning all American poultry products. Russia's veterinary service said Tuesday it had banned poultry imports only from Texas. The Philippines also was considering a ban.

EU Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner David Byrne said the decision cuts off imports of live chickens, turkeys and eggs. Chicken and turkey meat are also banned although the EU currently does not import any due to differences in vaccination policies.

"It is not as virulent as the outbreak in Asia, but nevertheless it's a highly contagious virus and therefore does require an immediate response from the EU," Byrne told reporters during a meeting of EU agriculture ministers. "We want to ensure there is no risk posed."

American consumers are safe, Dr. Paul Glezen of the Baylor University College of Medicine told CBS News.

"There's no possibility of transmission through processed poultry which we would ordinarily get in the supermarket," he said. "The only concern would be if you went to a live market and had contact with sick birds."

The flu found in Texas is not the same strain that has killed at least 22 people in Asia, said Dr. Ron DeHaven of the USDA. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it poses little threat to humans.

Byrne said 25 percent of Europe's imported eggs come from the United States, worth some $25 million in trade annually. The EU also imports $3.15 million worth of day-old chicks, or around 800,000 per year, most of which are turkeys.

The majority of the exports come from Eastern Seaboard states, however, and not from Texas, officials said.

Byrne said the EU ban on all U.S. poultry could be reduced to Texas if U.S. authorities prove they have contained the outbreak. He said the ban would be reviewed by the EU's veterinary experts before March 23, when it expires.

Russia, America's largest poultry export market, previously had banned imports from Delaware. Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev has said that the temporary ban could be expanded to the entire United States if avian flu spins out of control.

The Texas outbreak is the first time since 1983-84 that the so-called high-pathogenic strain of bird flu has been found in the United States.

On the mad cow front, the government should consider requiring mad cow tests on cattle that die on farms and on those that are taken to rendering plants, an advisory committee told Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman in new recommendations.

At the same time, the full Senate Appropriations committee was scheduled Tuesday to hear about the government's response to mad cow disease, with officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes for Health scheduled.

Under current U.S. regulations, cattle that cannot stand up before slaughter, called "downers," are tested for mad cow disease. Such animals were allowed to be processed into food until the discovery of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in December prompted the government to ban the use of downers in food.

"They have taken all the downers out of the system," Gus R. Douglass, the advisory committee's chairman and West Virginia's state agriculture commissioner, said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press. "This means they are going to have to look at a new system of locating and of course getting the specifics they need from those animals."

The ban on downers is meant to prevent mad cow disease from being transmitted to people. Humans can get sick with a similar, fatal brain-wasting illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, if they eat contaminated meat.

Downed animals still can be processed at rendering plants which prepare animal byproducts for use in consumer goods, from cosmetics to gelatin for drug capsules. The government believes such items pose no risk to human health.

Not all downers are processed, though. Many farmers bury downed cattle on their land.

The advisory committee said dead cattle that are buried on the farm should be part of the surveillance system to look for mad cow disease. It did not specify how much that would cost and didn't recommend how extensive testing should be.

The recommendations were submitted to Veneman on Feb. 13 and released Monday on the department's Web site. Alisa Harrison, a department spokeswoman, said officials are considering them.

In a telephone briefing, Dr. Ron DeHaven, USDA's chief veterinarian, said the department was working with state officials to set up a monitoring system to find downed animals at rendering plants and farms.

Harrison noted that it could be difficult since there are about 96 million cattle in the United States.

The committee also recommended more testing of high-risk live animals, such as those that have symptoms of a central nervous system disease.

Last week, Veneman said she was looking at increasing the number of animals to be tested from the current plan of 40,000 a year.

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