Mon, 28 November 2022
The Daily Ittefaq

Bird flu outbreaks worry European farmers

Update : 03 Oct 2022, 15:10

Poultry and wild birds all over Europe die of bird flu. Just as was seen with the coronavirus, the flu virus has mutated and stayed a year on the continent. Solutions are barely in sight.

Pictures of dead wild birds' bodies, people in white suits carrying dead poultry out of barns – these are not new to anyone involved in poultry farming or bird conservation all across Europe.

Poultry farmer Alrik Visscher from Dalfsen in the eastern part of the Netherlands is one of the farmers who has lost all his birds because of the flu. Visscher runs a family farm together with his parents, where four of his barns are now empty. Normally, up to 115,000 chickens would be walking around here, picking the grain and laying eggs. Now, the Visschers are cleaning and disinfecting everything.

It was August 1 when Visscher discovered the first signs of the bird flu in some of his birds: They were quieter, blinking, some already dead. Just a day later, all the other chickens were culled as a protective measure.
"It's a mess what you feel: You feel sad, but you also feel: We have to do it like this," Visscher remembers. "Because you have so many chicken, you don't think you have bond with them. But then you're gonna discover that." Not only emotionally, but also financiallym the farmers are hit badly. They lost all their sources of income. 

Current bird flu season does not end

There have been regular outbreaks of this sickness, which ends in death for many birds, for more than year, though normally, the bird flu season in Europe lasts from October until April or May. Poultry farmers, bird conservationists and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) all claim that this epidemic season is exceptional. In the Netherlands alone, more than 4 million chickens and ducks had to be culled, while hundreds of thousands wild birds have died.

Barely any European country has not witnessed cases of bird flu among wild birds or poultry since the beginning of this season in October 2021. Especially new is that colony-breeding wild bird populations along the northwestern coasts of Europe are affected, according to EFSA's latest report.

But also in the US, new outbreaks have been registered every other day. Just like in the Netherlands, where the density of poultry farms is among the highest in Europe. According to EFSA, high poultry density is one of the factors leading to a faster spread of the virus, which usually comes from Asia via migratory wild birds wintering in Europe. When they leave in April, the virus normally leaves with them. Not this year, however: In the Netherlands, water birds are the most affected.

Gusts of wind carrying the feathers of infected birds, mice who touched bird droppings – small things like these that can bring the virus into the barns of poultry farmers. Although the countries have introduced tight hygiene measures, outbreaks have not stopped. Between October and July, no chickens were allowed to go outside in the whole of the Netherlands, a quarantine that is still in place in huge parts of the country.

A positive test at one farm leads to the installation of a 3km-wide-protection zone in which all farms have to prove they have no bird flu – and at affected farms all birds are culled as the virus is highly infectious. It kills fast, as Visscher recognized. On the first day, he found ten dead chickens, but the next day there were already hundreds of them.

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