The European Union has suspended imports of chicken from Thailand, following an outbreak of bird flu in the Asian country and the confirmation of the first two human cases of the disease there. European Health Commissioner David Byrne issued a statement saying the import ban was issued in response to the serious potential risk the disease poses for Europe and the EU. The European Commission also said it will continue to closely monitor the disease situation in Southeast Asia.

Thailand is the second largest exporter of chicken to the EU after Brazil. In 2002 the 15-nation bloc bought 120,000 tons of poultry products from the Asian country. The EU, however, does not import live chickens from Thailand.

Bird flu has hit other parts of Asia. In Vietnam it has killed five people, and it has infected millions of chickens in Japan and South Korea, however the EU does not import poultry from these countries.

Other places that have banned imports of Thai poultry include Japan, Hong Kong and Bangladesh.

Acting on its own, France has decided to impound imports of fresh chicken from Thailand dated after January 1, and French authorities are also increasing checks on people traveling from Southeast Asia to see if they are bringing fresh poultry products.

Early last year Europe suffered an outbreak of bird flu that started in the Netherlands and infected neighboring countries. The problem forced the slaughter of millions of birds and cost millions of dollars.

While bird flu does not spread easily among humans, medical authorities say there is a danger that when such a virus mixes with human flu it can form a new disease with a deadly impact.