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Japanese researchers have developed a way to make Tamiflu, the anti-viral drug believed to counter bird flu in humans, without using a scarce botanical ingredient used by Swiss drug maker Roche, news reports said Saturday.
Tamiflu uses Shikimic acid derived from the Chinese anise fruit, which is sold dried as a popular spice and medicinal herb.
A research team at the University of Tokyo can now manufacture Tamiflu using the chemical 1,4-cyclohexadiene instead of Shikimic acid, according to reports carried by the Yomiuri Shimbun and Kyodo News agency, which quoted head researcher Masakatsu Shibasaki.
Experts believe Tamiflu - technically known as oseltamivir - would be the best defense in the initial phases of any global influenza pandemic, and governments and companies have been stockpiling it because of fears about bird flu.
On Saturday, the European Union's first outbreak of the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu in commercial poultry was confirmed in France, but President Jacques Chirac sought to ease fears by insisting that eating poultry is safe and panic unjustified.
The Agriculture Ministry said lab tests confirmed H5N1 in turkeys at a farm of more than 11,000 birds in the southeast Ain region of France - The European Union's largest poultry producer.
Hundreds of birds died and the remainder were slaughtered even before the presence of the lethal virus was official. The farm has been sealed off.
Panic developing among consumers, with a drop of up to 30 percent in poultry purchases even before the announcement, has economic and social consequences for France and is "totally unjustified," Chirac said. He spoke after meeting with veterinarians and representatives of poultry farmers.
In India, officials said Saturday that at least two chickens found dead at a poultry farm in India's western Gujarat state were infected with the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, announcing the country's second known outbreak of the disease.
The dead birds were discovered at the National Poultry Farm in the Uchhal area of Gujarat, the region's administrator Vatsala Vasudev told The Associated Press.
Uchhal is a few miles across the border from Navapur, a farming region in neighboring Maharashtra state where an outbreak of bird flu last week prompted the culling of hundreds of thousands of birds.
Uchhal also sits on a highway that connects major towns and cities in western India.
Although the passage of traffic through Navapur has been blocked to prevent the spread of the disease, officials were investigating whether some infected chicken might still have passed through to Uchhal.
Vasudev said the National Poultry Farm, as well as another farm in the vicinity, have been closed. And local administrator A.V. Vader said birds are being tested at other poultry farms in the vicinity to assess if the virus has spread.
Officials were meeting to discuss the next steps, including the possibility of culling all birds at the farm and sealing off the area. Uchhal is located 210 kilometers south of the state capital Gandhinagar.
The head of Gujarat's department of animal husbandry, D. K. Rao, separately said the bird flu infections had been confirmed by tests in a federal laboratory. Rao is on the state government's four-member panel formed to prevent bird flu cases in Gujarat.
No human cases of H5N1 have been reported in either state.