EU Commissioner David Byrne met today with the Dutch Agriculture Minister and the Dutch State Secretary of Health at one of the crisis centres the Netherlands has established to combat the outbreak of avian influenza.

Byrne, who is responsible for Health and Consumer Protection in the European Commission, also participated in a roundtable with local farmers and regional and local representatives in Barneveld.

After touring the crisis centre, Byrne said: “The professional approach to combating the unfortunate outbreak of avian influenza is far reaching. I understand that the minister and his officials are doing everything possible to eradicate the disease.

“However, everyone involved in the sector has to do their best to support these efforts and respect all precautionary measures to avoid spreading the virus further. I am reassured that the actions taken so far have led to a decrease in the number of new affected or potentially affected farms and I hope that the disease is being successfully contained.

“I would also hope that full respect for the comprehensive measures in place can bring about the earliest possible resumption of trading opportunities. Clearly the industry has been dealt a severe blow and it is important that it gets back on its feet as quickly as possible.

“I regret that I am having to visit this crisis centre for the second time. As recently as 2001 the Netherlands suffered an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Two years ago, the European Commission supported the Dutch government in its approach and partially compensated affected farmers for the loss of their animals. We will do this now again, but of course the EU can only contribute in part to the final bill,” he added.

Under the Veterinary Fund, the Commission contributes about 50% of the expenditure incurred by the Member States for the culling and destruction of poultry in infected and possibly infected farms. It also covers certain other costs such as cleansing and disinfection of farms.

According to the figures available at present, the Commission said costs for the EU will probably amount to at least €70m (US$77.2m).

Byrne also said he regretted deeply the death of the Dutch veterinarian Jan Bosch and through the Dutch government extended his sympathy to his family. “Nevertheless, the current scientific expertise allows us to believe that at present the virus strain of avian influenza in the Netherlands does not represent a risk to the general public,” Byrne added.