Malta still free of avian flu
by Chris Galea, di-ve news
Measures introduced as further precaution
VALLETTA, Malta (di-ve news) -- February 13, 2006 -- 1815CET-- Malta is free from avian flu to this day and thus there is no reason for alarm, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Environment George Pullicino said on Monday while announcing a series of measures entering into effect immediately and intended to avoid as much as possible the chances of such an eventuality.
The measures include a temporary ban on hunting at sea until the end of the hunting season on the last day of February, while the Minister has kept his reserves with regards hunting on land, saying that this might be suspended as well before the season opens on March 25th.
He added that there was already a ban on plover hunting in effect and that the Ghaqda Kaccaturi Nassaba Konservazzjonisti was in agreement with the measures introduced.
The second measure announced by the Environment Minister is the gathering of wild ducks in an enclosed area still to be determined, where any contact of the ducks with other wild birds that might be migrating to Malta would be avoided and thus preventing their exposure to possible infected birds.
The Minister also said that any vehicles arriving to Malta from Sicily with the catamaran would be disinfected as part of the measures.
Minister Pullicino said that these new measures add on to the others already in effect, namely that water reservoirs have to be covered, that animals have to be kept inside and that movement between farms is limited.
While reiterating that Malta is still free of avian flu, the Minister also said that it is very important to make the distinction between avian flu, which only affects birds, and the pandemic flu that affects humans but is not in any way related.
Moreover, he added that the cases of avian flu that have been reported to this day in EU territories have only affected wild birds and none were reported amongst fowl kept in breeding.
Minister George Pullicino also assured the Maltese consumers that the local poultry products are free from any avian flu and that their production is up to EU standards.
On the same lines, Parliamentary Secretary Frans Agius said that Maltese products are all traceable and consequently safe. He added that these could be distinguished from other products as they carry a quality mark.
Dr. Frans Agius went on to say that, as a further precaution, poultry products should never be eaten raw but cooked at a temperature of over 70 degrees that would kill any viruses, thus also possible avian flu.
Minister Pullicino further said that monitoring and surveillance processes, which started last year, are still ongoing and have also been updated and revised. A contingency plan has also been prepared and this was already approved by the EU.
The Minister also referred to the case of the dead chickens discovered close to a farm in Zebbug, saying that, upon receiving the report, officials from the Food and Veterinary Division within the Ministry approached the farmer who confirmed that he had killed the chickens himself as these had finished their egg-laying cycle. Minister Pullicino pointed out that their dumping was carried out in an irresponsible way and might have caused unnecessary alarm.
The Minister has also reminded the emergency numbers. Free phone 8007 2211 is available during office hours for any related queries, while 7903 3044 is available around the clock and should be used in case of suspicion of avian flu cases.