UK culls chickens as precaution against avian influenza

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Avian influenza Influenza

About 35,000 chickens are being culled at a farm in Norfolk, UK as
a precaution against an outbreak of avian influenza.

Regulators plan to complete tests today to determine whether the strain is the deadly form of the disease.

The precautions mark the first outbreak in domestic poultry in the UK and the second in the EU. Germany also reported an outbreak in domestic poultry at a farm in early April. The UK confirmed finding the H5N1 pathogenic strain in a wild duck on 6 April.

The news is bound to heighten public fears about the safety of poultry in the UK and throughout the bloc. Reuters reported today that Tesco, the UK's biggest retailer, said its poultry sales fell five per cent when the first case was confirmed in the wild duck. 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 EU estimates.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said last night that preliminary tests indicate that the outbreak in Norfolk is likely to be the H7 strain of avian influenza, and not H5N1. Further confirmatory tests are in progress today to determine the pathogenicity of the virus.

"As a precautionary measure birds on the premises will be slaughtered on suspicion of an avian notifiable disease,"​ Defra stated. "Restrictions have been placed on the farm. When the additional laboratory results are known further action may be taken."

Last week Defra announced an increase control and precautionary measures against avian influenza. The decision followed an independent review in Octoer of the UK's avian quarantine system by a team chaired by Nigel Dimmock, a professor of virology at Warwick University.

Defra said 29 of the study's 32 recommendations have been accepted or accepted in principle. Two require further consideration and one has been rejected,

In other news Czech authorities confirmed earlier this week the presence of the deadly H5N1 virus in all the 12 cases of bird flu detected in the country.

The regulators have tested around 2,300 dead bodies of wild fowl and poultry for avian flu and confirmed the virus in 12 dead swans, all found in the south of Bohemia.

Avian influenza viruses in poultry have the potential to be highly pathogenic if the virus is of the H7 type. All avian influenzas, named from H1 to H16, can be low pathogenic but only H5 and H7 can become highly pathogenic.

Scientists 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.

About 200 people have caught the disease and 113 have died worldwide since its onset in Asia in 2003, according to the World Health Organisation.

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