UAE ‘will coordinate’ GCC bird flu strategy

Atef Hanafi And Tim Newbold
Filed on October 28, 2005

ABU DHABI The UAE has been handed the role of coordinating the Gulf countries' response to the worldwide outbreak of bird flu, a United Nations agency told Khaleej Times yesterday.

The resident representative of The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Kayan Al Jaff, revealed: "Because of the strategy which UAE officials had adopted, beginning with the constitution of the national emergency panel, as well as the efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture, the UAE was nominated to represent the Gulf region in this project."

A bird flu expert from the FAO will arrive in Abu Dhabi today to review all the measures taken by the government to prevent bird flu breaking out in the UAE, Al Jaff said. The FAO will then present its advice to the relevant bodies, which will also be given to the other GCC countries.

However, he stressed that the government has the ultimate responsibility for the policies it adopts and their implementation. He added that the way the UAE has so far dealt with the potential threat of bird flu has been "excellent".

Meanwhile, the FAO also yesterday voiced concern about countries that are banning the import of poultry from countries where there has not even been an outbreak of the influenza.

It warned that import bans which do not differentiate between infected and non-infected countries are at odds with the standards laid down by the World Organisation for Animal Health and the FAO's own guidance.

"Trade restrictions to safeguard human and animal health should be imposed only in proportion to the risk involved and...should be removed promptly when no longer needed," the FAO said in a statement.

The UAE Government last week placed a temporary ban on the import of all types of poultry, including pets, from all Asian countries and Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, as well as countries suspected to have been affected by the bird flu virus. It had previously banned such imports from Turkey and Romania too. Yet there have been no reported cases of bird flu in any part of the Middle East or in Asian states such as India and Pakistan.

The Abu Dhabi municipality also this week ordered the closure of all shops selling live poultry. The move has been criticised in some quarters as an excessive response to a problem, which has not yet emerged in the emirates, while others believe it is a necessary precautionary measure.

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