Romania to destroy 15 tons of chicken meat because of bird flu

Authorities ordered vendors Monday to pull an estimated 15 tons of chicken meat from store shelves, after discovering it had come from several farms in a central Romanian town where the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus was found. Over the weekend, an outbreak of H5N1 was reported and confirmed in the town of Codlea , the National Animal Health Agency said.

Authorities will cull 1 million birds in Codlea, and poultry exports from Romania may be stopped, Chairman of the Poultry Breeders' Union Ilie Van told state news agency Rompres. One company in Codlea was found to have delivered hundreds of live chickens and tons of meat to counties across Romania without carrying out required health checks, Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur said. The counties included Vrancea, Dolj, Hunedoara, Sibiu , Brasov , Mures, Prahova, Covasna, Valcea, Galati and Bucharest .

"We have introduced severe measures for the sale of live chicken, and if we find the law has been broken, we will be merciless," Flutur said Monday. Sixteen employees have been kept at a chicken farm in Codlea since Saturday, w hen the virus was discovered, local health official Mihai Dumitru said. Also in Codlea, hundreds of rotting birds were found in plastic sacks a few hundreds meters (yards) from one of the farms on Monday. Tests were being carried out on the birds.

Romania has had bird flu outbreaks in 53 communities since October, but the three new cases detected over the weekend in Codlea, Fagaras city and Hurezu village were the first in the northwest region of Transylvania . The case in Codlea was confirmed Sunday as H5N1. Further tests were being carried out on birds from Hurezu and Fagaras.

The National Animal Health Agency sent warnings Monday to poultry vendors not to sell products from Brasov county, where Codlea and Fagaras are located, agency head Gabriel Predoi said. In the central city of Targu Mures, authorities on Monday seized 17,000 eggs and 160 kilograms (352 pounds) of turkey meat that had come from Codlea. In Bucharest , about 2 tons of chicken meat was pulled from supermarket shelves, media reports said.

All birds in the central city of Fagaras were to be culled as a precaution, and the city was put under quarantine, authorities said. Residents were to be given the antiviral drug Tamiflu. Since October, Romania has culled more than 150,000 birds.

The H5N1 strain has spread with migratory birds from Asia to at least 10 countries in Europe and Africa , and scientists fear it could mutate into a form that is easily transmitted between humans, sparking a pandemic. Romania has recorded no human cases of bird flu, but at least 115 people have died from H5N1, most of them infected directly by sick birds, according to the World Health Organization, reports the AP.