Ten measures for a more animal friendly approach to Avian influenza

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Ten measures for a more animal friendly approach to Avian influenza

11 February 2015
News
Each year, poultry farms in the Netherlands are hit by avian influenza, resulting in the mindless cull of animals. To tackle this problem, Eurogroup for Animals' member Dierenbescherming (the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals) presented yesterday a plan for animal friendly approaches to bird flu. Examples of the measures include animal vaccination and a better outdoor run for the chickens.

Each year, poultry farms in the Netherlands are hit by avian influenza, resulting in the mindless cull of animals. To tackle this problem, Eurogroup for Animals' member Dierenbescherming (the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals) presented yesterday a plan for animal friendly approaches to bird flu. Examples of the measures include animal vaccination and a better outdoor run for the chickens.

During the last highly pathogen avian flu outbreak in the Netherlands in 2003, over 30 million chickens were culled. Following the incident, the Dutch poultry sector had to be rebuilt completely. While there are ways to make farms more resistant against bird flu, for instance by limiting the scale of the farm or by developing vaccines, the poultry sector has continued to promote larger and intensified farming practices.

In November 2014, an outbreak of avian flu took place in a laying hen farm in the Netherlands again. For the first time in 11 years, it was not a low but a high pathogen type of the virus and restrictions were imposed for the whole country to prevent spreading. A total of eight farms were affected and as a result, over 22,500 ducks and 322,500 chickens were culled within 2 weeks.

A more animal friendly approach of the bird flu is necessary and Eurogroup member Dierenbescherming proposes 10 measures to help farmers make better choices. Now that the bird flu crisis is over, the organization wants to discuss with the poultry industry and both Dutch and European authorities to take serious measures in order to make the sector more resistant against bird flu. Much like the human flu, we can expect bird flu to reappear year after year in a cyclical manner. The publication covers the following topics:

  • Breeding of chickens has been aimed at increased laying of eggs and fast growing chickens. This leads to high productive animals with low resistance to disease. Farmers should focus on breeding highly resistant chickens.
  • The full erradication of avian influenza will not be possible but vaccines need to be developed. Between 2006 and 2009 the Netherlands was provided with a vaccine against certain bird flu strains, yet it was rarely used. Little research has been aimed at development and implementation of vaccines and this needs to change.
  • Vaccination would not guarantee protection against bird flu. For this reason, Dierenbescherming proposes to have a look at the positioning of the poultry farms. For instance, new poultry farms should no longer be allowed to settle near large bodies of water, known to be the home of large populations of wild ducks that could help spread the virus. Existing poultry farms should be moved away from these waters.
  • One third of Dutch poultry farms is concentrated in two areas of the country. If bird flu breaks out in one of these areas, millions of animals will get ill and have to be culled. Such concentrations should be reduced in a drastic way.
  • When buying free range or organic eggs, consumers expect they originate from chickens with access to the outdoors. Unfortunately, each year during small outbreaks of bird flu, the outdoor runs are closed and the chickens have to stay inside the barns. If enough trees are planted and bushes are available in the outdoor, external carriers of the virus (ducks, geese or other birds) are not attracted while providing a good environment for chickens. Good outdoor chicken ranges do not need to be closed each time small outbreaks occur.

Download the full report in Dutch here.