South Korea suspends US poultry imports due to bird flu

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea has suspended imports of US poultry and poultry products because of an outbreak of bird flu in the United States, the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

The suspension, from Saturday, comes as South Korea is struggling to contain its own outbreak of bird flu in birds.

"This import suspension is a quarantine measure to prevent the HPAI virus from entering the country," the ministry statement said, referring to highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus.

The ministry said 18 countries including South Korea had been hit by the HPAI virus this year. South Korea has had no human cases.

Avian flu is an infectious viral disease of birds. Most bird flu viruses do not infect humans, but some have caused serious infections in humans.

Two strains of avian influenza - H5N2 and H5N8 - have been confirmed in wild birds in Washington state, near the US border with Canada, but there was no immediate cause for public health concerns, U.S. agriculture officials said on Wednesday.

Neither virus has been found in US commercial poultry.

South Korea's imports from the United States in the first 11 months of the year included 63,245 tonnes of poultry meat and 264,000 chicks, according to ministry data.

The ministry said the import suspension would not cause a shortage as domestic poultry meat supply is projected to rise by 17.5 per cent to 67,000 tonnes this month from a year earlier on top of 9,000 tonnes in inventory.