The FAO expressed concern about general and pre-emptive bans on poultry imports adopted in response to avian influenza.
Import bans on poultry that do not distinguish between infected and non- infected countries are contrary to the spirit of the World Trade Organization (WTO), standards set by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and recommendations made by FAO, the UN agency said in a statement.
As countries establish pre-emptive import bans on poultry to prevent possible bird flu outbreaks, FAO noted that in some cases, the bans include poultry from all countries, even those considered to be free of highly pathogenic avian influenza and those that have never experienced an outbreak of H5N1.
Countries arbitrarily banning the import of poultry products from non- infected countries are increasing the vulnerability of international global markets to price shocks, FAO said.
The agency cautioned countries that "trade restrictions to safeguard human and animal health should be imposed only in proportion to the risk involved and that they should be removed promptly when no longer needed."
However, countries exporting poultry products must also ensure that any incidence of the disease is immediately announced to all trading partners and necessary steps are taken to limit the spread of the disease.
"Bans on poultry products from disease-free countries increase uncertainties in the global meat market, which is already threatened by potential supply shortages and rising meat prices because of continuing BSE- restrictions on North American beef shipments," according to FAO. "Markets have also been affected by recent import restrictions on meat from Brazil, the largest meat exporting country, in response to recent cases of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)."
According to FAO, recent outbreaks of transboundary diseases and the imposition of disease-related export restrictions had an immediate impact on global meat trade in the 2004/2005. International meat prices, as represented in the FAO meat price index, which is calculated using trade-weighted indicative international prices, have risen to 10-year highs.
Consumer responses to potential bird flu outbreaks are already having a disruptive impact on industries in Europe and beyond, according to FAO. In Europe the reaction has been mixed, for example in Germany there has been no change while consumption of poultry in Italy has declined by 40 percent.
FAO reminded consumers that avian influenza is not a food-borne disease and that the bird flu virus is killed by the heat of normal cooking. "There is no risk of getting avian influenza from properly cooked poultry and eggs."
Meat processors are urged to apply necessary safety measures to prevent virus transmission to humans.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations