Highly pathogenic bird flu strains identified at Dutch poultry farm
07 Jan 2021 --- Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR) has confirmed the occurrence of multiple bird flu strains at a Dutch poultry farm. The highly pathogenic H5N8 strain was among the identified pathogens on a turkey farm in Moergestel, in the south of the country.
Meanwhile, H5N1 or H5N5 viruses were also detected in a few birds. In total, this concerns approximately 18,000 animals.
Mark Den Hartog, general secretary of the Netherlands’ poultry meat association NEPLUVI, explains that avian viruses have been found across Europe and are not solely a Dutch concern, as they are spread through the migratory patterns of infected wild birds.
“The outbreaks of avian flu is because the virus has been carried with wild birds from Russia or Kazakhstan. The virus has now been found among many wild birds in all kinds of European countries,” he tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“It is, therefore, not the case that there are only bird flu outbreaks in the Netherlands. There have already been outbreaks in many countries, with more outbreaks than in the Netherlands,” he continues.
Estimated public health risk
There are two main types of avian influenza, low pathogenic (LPAI) and highly pathogenic (HPAI). The last significant European outbreaks were in 2016 and 2017.
“Depending of the serotype of avian influenza, it can be worst for ducks, turkeys or other avian farmed or wild species,” Ana Granados-Chapatte, director of the European Forum of Farm Animal Breeders (EFFAB), tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Avian influenza does not cross easily to other animals. We don’t know other cases in other species of animals.”
The viruses identified are related to the H5N8 virus and are the result of exchange of genetic material with low pathogenic avian flu viruses.
Wageningen University Research states that the H5N1 virus in the Netherlands is not related to the H5N1 virus that infected people in Asia. The risk to public health from the viruses in the Netherlands is estimated to be low.
“This year, we have read about new detections of Avian influenza on farms and in wildlife on a daily basis,” details Ksenija Simovic, communications manager of Copa-Cogeca, a coalition of European agri-food stakeholders.
“According to the European Food Safety Authority [EFSA], between August 15 and December 7, 2020, 561 cases of highly pathogenic Avian influenza have been detected in Europe. The majority of them (510) have been reported in wild birds.”
Transport ban rolled out
No other poultry farms have been found within the three kilometer zone of the infected Dutch farm. To prevent the virus from spreading, the farm is being culled by the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA).
Meanwhile, 21 other poultry farms were identified within the ten kilometer zone of the infected farm. A transport ban currently applies in this zone.
This ban covers poultry, eggs, poultry manure and used bedding, as well as other animals and certain products from commercial poultry companies.
“The NL poultry sector has drawn up an AI roadmap with all kinds of good measures to minimize the risk of contamination,” says Den Hartog.
“This includes perfecting biosafety, more intensive monitoring of wild birds and, for example, investigating the installation of lasers to keep wild birds at bay.”
All current national measures, such as the obligation to house commercially kept poultry, will remain in full force, details Wageningen University Research. “As of this week, for keepers of laying hens, breeding animals and broilers a stricter reporting obligation is in place.”
“[Farmers] must report the loss of animals to the NVWA sooner. This allows bird flu infections to come to light earlier and reduces the risk of spreading.”
Zoonotic diseases drive up appetite for alternative proteins
The risk of pathogenic outbreaks in livestock is among the factors that pushes up demand for alternatives to meat, eggs and dairy. “Plant-Forward” was pegged as a Top Trend for 2021 by Innova Market Insights.
Avian influenza and African swine fever are flagged by Rabobank as two main factors that push up market volatility. The Dutch bank has forecasted bird flu will remain a major driver of volatility in poultry markets, with increasing import demand in countries like China and potential supply shocks in local markets like Vietnam and the Philippines.
“Bird flu, swine flu and now COVID-19 demonstrate that keeping large numbers of animals in close contact with one another presents a tremendous risk for global health,” says Christie Lagally, founder and CEO of the plant-based player Rebellyous Foods, which raised US$6 million in Series A funding last year.
Appetite for meat reduction offerings is further underscored amid the coronavirus pandemic. “COVID-19 has highlighted a major issue in many food supply chains,” Patrick Morris, CEO of Eat Beyond Global, previously told FoodIngredientsFirst in an interview.
“The novel coronavirus is a zoonotic disease, as are bird flu and influenza which originated from domestic chickens and horses and pigs, respectively. Chicken pox, swine flu and tuberculosis all are also zoonotic diseases. The answer is really to reduce our dependence on animal products to help break this cycle.”
By Benjamin Ferrer
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