The European Commission has said it has decided to suspend the import of all poultry meat and poultry products from Thailand with immediate effect, after the Southeast-Asian country confirmed outbreaks of bird flu.

EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne, who is currently on an official visit to the country, said that all measures must be taken to protect the EU from the virus.

Avian influenza is a highly contagious poultry disease that can cause severe economic damage to the poultry industry and can be transmitted to humans. The EU does not import live poultry and hatching eggs from Thailand and although the risk of importing the virus in meat or meat products is probably very low the Commission said it wanted to make sure that any possible transmission is avoided.

The EU imported 120,000 tonnes of poultry meat and poultry products from Thailand in 2002 and 128,000 tonnes from January to October 2003.

The EU is one of the main export markets for Thai poultry products. Japan, the largest buyer of Thai poultry, has already suspended imports.

Meanwhile Thailand’s deputy agriculture minister Newin Chidchob said Thailand had temporarily suspended all chicken exports after the first human cases of the disease in the country were confirmed.

“After the international community learns we have found the bird flu virus in Thailand they will stop importing Thai poultry products, so in response to this Thailand will temporarily suspend exports of poultry products,” he was quoted by Agence France Presse as saying.