Three tiny Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – are wedged between Russia and Poland. Lithuania shares a common border with Poland and, like its much larger neighbour, it is a member of the European Union (EU). Lithuania was understandably one of the first countries to react to the outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) sweeping through Poland. However, EU membership means that Lithuania may not take unilateral action to ban imports (in this case, poultrymeat) from any fellow member country under European Commission (EC) rules.
Lithuania requested a complete ban on Polish poultry imports when the first infected Polish farm was announced on 1 December 2007, and officials in the capital, Vilnius, asked the EC for a temporary ban on all poultry and poultry products from Poland to be extended across all EU countries.
According to Thenew.pl, the EC refused to ratify a Lithuanian ban on Polish poultry. “EU member states cannot take unilateral measures concerning trade within the borders of the EU,” said Nina Papadulaki, EU spokesperson for health issues, quoted by Rzeczpospolita. “The EC has been notified of the intentions of Lithuanian authorities and is in constant contact with them, asking them to lift the embargo”, she added. According to the EC, the measures taken by Poland so far are sufficient to avoid spread of the disease to other countries.
There is a ban on the export of Polish poultry into other EU countries but at present, it is only applicable to poultry from within the 10km zone around the infected farms. In practice, this means only 10 districts within the central Mazowiekie province of Poland are affected despite the most recent outbreaks that have occurred in the north eastern province of Warminsko-Mazurskie.
Lithuania wants the EC to impose a complete ban on Polish poultry, saying the situation is getting serious, and considering what has happened so far it is easy to see why. The H5N1 virus was present on farms in central Poland for at least three weeks before being found by the authorities. Infected meat entered the food chain and was sold in shops across several northern provinces including the north-eastern province of Warminsko-Mazurskie that borders Lithuania.
According to Thenews.pl, 40,000 eggs from H5N1-infected farms in Zuromin were discovered on sale in the same north-east province of Poland. The report said 2500 were sold on 9 December, and another 5000 were withdrawn from sale. The disease is still spreading, and Reuters reported another latest outbreak in chickens on a farm just north of Olsztyn, the capital city of Warminsko-Mazurskie province, on 17 December.
Given the speed and scale of events in Poland and the apparently casual approach of the Polish authorities to H5N1, it is not hard to see why Lithuania is so worried.
Poultrymeat production in Lithuania has pushed along at a healthy pace increasing year-on-year during 2006 by 19.8%. This was mainly due to poultrymeat becoming more price-competitive compared with other meats, according to Baltic Business News. Poultrymeat accounted for 25.8% of total Lithuanian meat production during 2006. An official from Lithuanian poultry producer, Putnu Fabrika Kekava, claimed poultrymeat is the cheapest meat in Lithuania. Due to growing demand, the company established a new poultry slaughterhouse in 2006 to increase significantly its output of processed poultry.