A highly contagious and deadly form of avian influenza is invading quickly Europe. It means alert for the poultry industry especially taking into account previous outbreaks as the result of which tens of millions of birds culled.
The disease, commonly called bird flu, has already been detected in many countries: France, the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Croatia, Slovenia and Poland. It had already stricken Russia, Kazakhstan and Israel, as reported by rte.ie.
Many cases are caused by migrating wild birds but farms have also reported about outbreaks. It has led to the death or culling of at least 1.6 million chickens and ducks.
In the Netherlands, Europe’s largest exporter of chicken meat and eggs, nearly 500,000 chickens died or were culled due to the virus this autumn, and over 900,000 hens died on one single farm in Poland this week, the countries’ ministries said.
The spokeswoman for the Friedrich-Loeffler Institute, addressing farm animal health and welfare, stressed: “The risk of a transfer in poultry farms and more cases among wild birds is higher than in the past two years because of the massive appearance of various bird flu viruses in Europe”.
According to data, provided by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), Russia’s poultry death toll was 1.8 million by the end of October, with nearly 1.6 million of that on one farm near Kazakhstan.
The main strain revealed this year in Europe is H5N8. It is the same as in 2016/17 when it was its largest outbreak in poultry and wild birds.
EU poultry industry players expressed their deep concern about the latest outbreak.
“We have worked so hard to improve safety, to train breeders and improve traceability that we hope that if there are cases we will manage to contain them,” said Anne Richard, head of France’s poultry industry lobby ANVOL.
Many counties have raised their alert status to “high”, implying that poultry and birds of all types be kept indoors or protected in order to avoid contact with wild birds.
Bird flu outbreaks like other animal diseases often push importing countries to impose trade restrictions. It will aggravate the situation around coronavirus-related lockdowns threatening to affect year-end Christmas sales.
Denis Lambert, chief executive of France’s largest poultry group LDC stated: “It’s already difficult to export with the Covid, it would make it even worse.”.
Importing countries’ approach to limit restrictions to regions with the virus should help soften the impact.
China, for example, has suspended imports of poultry products from four regions in Russia due to bird flu, TASS news agency has reported.