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Italy Steps Up Efforts to Stem Spread of Bird Flu

As concerns over the spread of bird flu increase, Italian police have stepped up controls at sites that could be at risk. Thousands of chickens and eggs were seized by police this week and three egg packaging plants were shut down in southern Italy.

With the number of people infected with bird flu in Turkey increasing, Italian police have stepped up controls to ensure health measures are being implemented correctly in this country.

Thirty thousand chickens and 4,000 eggs were seized in Italy this week, because they were not being handled according to measures designed to guard against bird flu. Mario Pantano heads the police unit in charge of these controls for the south of Italy.

Pantano says the most recent operations took place in the regions of Puglia, Calabria and in Sicily and involved three farms where hygiene standards were found to be insufficient and not in compliance with the health ministry's code. Police say the seizures were a precaution. Pantano added that samples were taken to check whether the state of health of the chickens is satisfactory, something that should have been done by the farmers themselves.

Pantano says the seized chickens and eggs were not the first. There have been similar operations by the police in recent weeks. He said the largest number of poultry has been seized in the region of Calabria.

But he said there is no reason to be alarmed for the time being.

"I would like to reassure the public because the fact that animals are being seized means that controls are taking place," he said. "These are continuing and working. If the tests are negative on the chickens and eggs, they will return to their owners and the situation will go back to normal."

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization warned earlier this week that the bird flu that hit Turkey might have already arrived in neighboring countries and urged authorities in those countries to step up efforts to detect possible outbreaks.

A joint team from the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health is expected to visit the region next week to assess the needs of Turkey's neighbors and check whether precautions are being taken and controls being made.