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Avian flu hits Denmark's poultry; FAO questions world strategy

By staff reporter , 22-May-2006

Denmark and Romania are battling fresh outbreaks of the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has spread to domestic poultry in the two countries.

The spread of the virus in domestic poultry in Europe has heightened public fears about eating chicken. Consumption of poultry meat has dropped by more than half in some EU states, with 300,000 tonnes now in storage across the bloc, according to previous EU estimates The continuing fight against the spread of avian influenza throughout Europe has focused on preventing the spread of the disease to domestic flocks from wild birds.

Last week the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) questioned whether current strategies need to be adjusted to concentrate more on protecting the poultry sector.

 

The current avian flu crisis is not only an immediate, short-term problem, it is likely to be a continuing emergency that will last several years, said Joseph Domenech, the FAO's chief veterinary officer.

 

In many countries, fear of infection is leading consumers to shy away from poultry, throwing the multimillion dollar industry into crisis, he said.

 

"FAO is concerned that international interest is focused almost exclusively on the possibility of avian flu hitting human populations to the neglect of its potentially devastating impact on poultry and other animals," he said in a statement Friday.

 

The FAO is calling for for increased surveillance and monitoring of poultry and other animals, followed by rapid reporting of any outbreaks to the authorities, along with strict measures to limit the spread of the disease through the culling and movement control.

 

The rapid spread of the disease means that FAO now needs $308 million for its contribution to the global programme for the control of avian influenza over the next three years - more than twice the sum required a few months ago. To date, FAO has only received $71 million.

 

In Europe Denmark reported the discovery of the pathogenic strain H5N1 of avian influenza, which can be transmitted from birds to humans. The strain was found in a backyard poultry farm on the island of Funen.

 

The farm has about 100 birds, including laying hens, ducks, geese and peacocks, and was located in the same area in Denmark where cases of H5N1 bird flu occurred in wild birds in March. A total of 47 of the birds were found to be infected.

 

Last Thursday, Denmark's government halted exports of poultry from the island and announced it might force the to halt all its exports from the rest of the country.

 

Danish poultry production in 2005 was estimated at 202,200 tonnes, of which 113,334 tons were exported elsewhere. About 72,171 tons of exports went to other EU member countries, according to a report by the US agriculture department.

 

Although Denmark will try to limit the impact of this development on Danish poultry trade, it is expected that countries outside the EU might react to this outbreak with full or partial bans on trade in poultry and poultry products from Denmark. Outside of Europe, South Korea was the major market.

 

On Sunday, Romania's minister of agriculture, Gheorghe Flutur, said laboratory tests confirmed the presence of birds infected with avian flu in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, for the first time. Outbreaks in domestic poultry have occurred throughout the country since October. About 70 outbreaks have been recorded in Romania, with about 20 of the incidents occurring this month, according to Mediafax, Romania's news agency.

 

A total of 57 countries around the world have so far reported detecting the avian influenza strain, either in wild birds or domestic poultry.

 

Bird flu has killed 64 percent of those people known to be infected with the virus this year, according to World Health Organization statistics. There were 217 cases of infection and 123 deaths worldwide. Most of the deaths occurred in Asia. Earlier this year four died in Turkey.

 

Scientists worldwide are worried that the H5N1 form of the virus, which can be transmitted from poultry to humans, may mutate so that it can be transmitted from human to human and start a influenza pandemic.

 

Since the beginning of the recent avian flu crisis, consumption of poultry and eggs has fallen dramatically in some member states, leading to a sharp reduction in prices. In some countries, such as Italy, demand has fallen by up to 70 per cent, drastically lowering poultry farmers' incomes.

 

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported that recent avian influenza outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and Africa have caused dramatic swings in poultry consumption, increased trade bans and sharp price declines. The UN agency expects poultry consumption shocks this year in many countries.

 

"A steady erosion of previously expected gains in per caput poultry consumption will likely push down global poultry consumption in 2006, currently estimated at 81.8 million tonnes, nearly three million tonnes lower than the previous 2006 estimate of 84.6 million tonnes," stated FAO commodity specialist Nancy Morgan.

 

According to the FAO report consumption shocks are ranging from a dramatic 70 per cent decline in Italy in mid-February to 20 per cent in France and 10 per cent in northern Europe.

 

The crisis has also affected the $42 billion dollar feed sector in Europe, with demand losses estimated at up to 40 per cent in some countries, the FAO stated.

 

Last week EU researchers criticised measures to prevent avian influenza in poultry flocks as being compromised by lax management, poor international coordination, and a shortage of funds.

 

The new report, by Ilaria Capua and Dennis Alexander, is due to be published in the June 2006 issue of Avian Pathology, a UK journal. It also reveals a lack of understanding about how the virus could spread and questions the effectiveness of pre-emptive culling as a means of containing an outbreak.

 

"As this study identifies, a universal solution to the prevention and control of avian flu does not exist," the two researchers stated. " A combination of different strategies must be used, on the basis of the characteristics of the poultry industry at risk, which differs around the world, and of the goals that can be reasonably achieved."