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Urgent debat on Bird-Flu

Plenary Session 6 October 2005

On behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left I thank both rapporteurs for their quick work and their presentation of this important matter. Bird flu is a hot issue, so to speak. The United Nations appointed a special co-ordinator, David Nabarro, who said that depending on the measures that were taken the number of victims will be between 5 million and 150 million people. That was a spectacular statement. However, the scientific background is, as a serious Dutch newspaper wrote, soft.

That does not mean that nothing should be done. There are some good proposals in the draft recommendation. The fact that people have died in Asia because of the disease is a sign that should be taken seriously. We must consider some other aspects as well. In the Netherlands, 85 million chickens are held in the small boxes of the agro-industry. These large concentrations lead to rapid contamination that is easily spread. That was proved a few years ago in the Netherlands. If we want to lower the risk of spreading this flu, we must radically improve the living conditions of livestock.

There is more to consider. What contributes to the spread of this flu? All the attention seems to be focused on the migration of birds from Asia. However, according to Dutch specialists, it is clear that the flu is spread also by the transport of animals and the transport of animal products as well as by visitors from the regions where the flu exists. The transport of animals over long distances, which can be criticised from other perspectives as well, should be limited and controlled.

There is more to be said. The interests of the agro-business, the way in which livestock is held and manipulated so that animals grow quickly and the way that non-natural food is produced all lead to livestock being in a weak condition to withstand and overcome these types of diseases.

The panic that the threat of bird flu has caused in the Netherlands has led to the wrong measures being taken. Instead of the vaccination of free range chicken, the Dutch Government ordered that these meadow chickens should be put in stables and boxes. That means that after six weeks, according to European Union laws, the eggs of these chickens cannot be sold as organic eggs. It is the farmers who work along the lines of sustainable development and animal welfare, as well as their animals, who are the victims of that policy.

To fight bird flu, it may be necessary to vaccinate poultry. It is certainly necessary to limit the transport of animals, and the movements of visitors and tourists from the regions affected should be controlled. To prevent the outbreak of new diseases, we also need to analyse and criticise the way in which agri-business and the food industry work but I am aware, Mr President, that that would require another report.