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Beijing Warns of Bird Flu; Chirac Urges Calm

February 26, 2006|From Associated Press

BEIJING — China today warned the public of a possible "massive" outbreak of bird flu, and said the country's agriculture officials were on high alert.

The announcement came as China reported that two more people -- who had both been around sick or dead birds -- had died of the H5N1 bird flu strain, and that there was a new poultry outbreak in the country's east.

"In view of the current situation, the possibility of a massive outbreak could not be ruled out," the official New China News Agency quoted Agriculture Minister Du Qinglin as saying.

Meanwhile, in Paris, French President Jacques Chirac urged consumers not to panic Saturday, hours after the government announced the European Union's first outbreak of the deadly bird flu strain in commercial poultry.

Chirac said chickens and eggs remained safe to eat as he ate a piece of the famously succulent chicken from the southeastern Ain region, where the lethal virus was confirmed in turkeys.

Panic among consumers is "totally unjustified," Chirac said during a visit to open the annual Paris Agriculture Fair. "The virus in question ... is automatically destroyed by cooking. So there is absolutely no danger."

Yet fear already was setting in, raising worries for a multibillion-dollar industry that makes France the premier poultry producer among the European Union's 25 nations.

Japan's decision Friday to suspend imports of French poultry and poultry products, including foie gras, signaled the potential repercussions even before the confirmation that the H5N1 virus had ravaged a farm of more than 11,000 turkeys at Versailleux, in southeastern France.

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