Bird flu outbreak spreads to Belgium
Brussels – A highly contagious strain of bird flu that has affected poultry farmers in France and Germany has now spread to Belgium, officials said on Thursday.
The H5N8 avian virus was identified late Wednesday among birds at a home in the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders between the cities of Brussels and Ghent.
“The virus that has hit our neighbours in the past months has now reached Belgium,” said Belgian Agriculture Minister Willy Borsus.
“Professional farmers have not been affected, but we must be vigilant,” he added.
Belgium in November preventively implemented confinement measures in order to stop an epidemic during the bird migratory season.
Authorities on Thursday expanded them to include private owners of poultry and other birds.
The H5N8 strain can spread quickly in affected farms, often leading to the culling of thousands of birds.
Since October, the strain has been detected in 15 other European countries including Britain, France and Germany.
Hungary has had the highest number of outbreaks in the past three months, with 201 cases reported in farms and four in wild birds.
Some 190,000 ducks were destroyed on Saturday at six farms in the Netherlands following an avian flu outbreak, the country’s first cull in response to an epidemic sweeping northern Europe.
Outbreaks of avian flu, primarily the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain, have been reported in Denmark, Finland, Germany and Sweden over the past week.
Will the worst bird flu outbreak in US history finally make us reconsider factory farming chicken?
The outbreak has required that farmers resort to fire-extinguisher foam to kill off infected flocks. Can commercial farms protect themselves, or is US chicken farming fundamentally unsustainable?
Iowa, the hardest hit, has euthanized more than 31 million birds, including approximately 40% of the state’s 60 million laying hens, according to Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association. Turkey farmers in the state, while affected to a lesser degree, also have suffered. Minnesota, the leading turkey producer, has lost nearly 9 million turkeys.
The massive challenge of disposing of these sick birds illustrates the scale of chicken farming in the US. When avian flu infects a single bird on a chicken farm, the whole population has to be destroyed in order to stop the spread. In Iowa, for example, where an egg farm holds anywhere from 70,000 to 5 million birds, infection means slaughtering an unimaginable number of animals.
…. Meanwhile for turkeys and broiler chickens, which are floor-reared (ie not kept in cages), the use of water-based foam similar to that used by firefighters is the most effective way to euthanize a large flock in a short period of time, says Beth Carlson, North Dakota’s deputy state veterinarian.
Approved for use by the USDA in 2006, the water-based foam suffocates the birds, which are typically herded into an enclosed area of the barn so that the foam can be deployed more quickly.
…. Not all agree that using foam is humane. “We could do better,” says Michael Blackwell, chief veterinary officer at The Humane Society of the United States, who likens death by foam to “cuffing a person’s mouth and nose, during which time you are very much aware that your breathing has been precluded”.
…. Based on the size of the flock and local conditions, the dead birds are composted on-site (either indoors or outdoors), composted off-site, buried, moved to landfills or incinerated. Composting – in which dead birds are laid in rows, mixed with a bulking agent such as wood chips or saw dust and then left for approximately 30 days – is the preferred method of disposal, Benson says, because the virus is killed by the heat produced as the birds decompose. The problem with landfills, according to Benson, is that the virus might contaminate the soil or groundwater.
…. Commercial poultry farms, on the other hand, “are designed like a disease incubator”, thanks to dark, moist and crowded conditions.
…. When a bird is bred so that all its energy goes to the production of meat or eggs, “something has to give”, says the ASPCA’s McMillan. “The science indicates that a bird’s immunity goes down.”
…. It’s the system that is at fault, according to McMillan. “We are forcing birds to live in unbalanced ways, both physically and genetically,” she says. Commercial poultry flocks “are bred to suffer. We force them to live a life of misery, and from that perspective, they are going to be more prone to contracting and spreading disease. These are not healthy, balanced animals.”
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