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US Bird Flu Case Triggers Asian Import Bans - 2004-02-08

Many Asian governments are suspending imports of American poultry Sunday after U.S. officials confirmed an outbreak of bird flu in the state of Delaware. The bans mark a further blow for the world's poultry industry.

Japanese Agriculture Minister Yoshiyuki Kamei said Sunday his government will temporarily halt all imports of U.S. poultry, just a day after similar moves by South Korean officials.

Malaysia and Singapore also have banned American poultry. Hong Kong has halted imports from the U.S. state of Delaware, where agriculture officials have confirmed an outbreak of bird flu.

But U.S. officials say the H7 virus found in Delaware is not dangerous to humans, in contrast to the more potent H5N1 form of the avian flu now devastating Asia's poultry industry.

South Korea and Japan are major importers of U.S. poultry. Japan alone buys around 500,000 tons of poultry and poultry products a year from the United States - about 10 percent of all its poultry imports.

Japan already has banned imports of poultry from China and Thailand, two countries most affected by the current avian flu outbreak.

Asia's poultry production and trade have been hard hit by the avian flu, where at least 10 countries have reported outbreaks. More than 50 million birds around the region have either died of the virus or been culled to stop its spread.

The virus has taken the lives of at least 18 people in Vietnam and Thailand, all of whom appear to have contracted it from sick birds. Cambodian officials also say they suspect a woman who died last week had the virus.

Health officials say that so far there is no evidence of the virus changing so that it can easily spread among humans.