Avian flu: 5 minutes to understand why breeders confine their birds

This winter, birds will also have to guard against an epidemic. Not Covid-19, but bird flu, better known as bird flu. Agriculture and Food Minister Julien de Normandie announced in a press release that the entire territory has now been put at “high” risk, while the virus is spreading heavily in Europe.

In a serious situation, drastic measure: all poultry farmers in France will have to confine their animals to avoid contact with migratory birds, which potentially carry the virus. The idea is above all to avoid the fiasco of last year, when around 500 outbreaks of avian flu in poultry farms could only be eradicated with the slaughter of more than 3.5 million birds, mainly ducks.

Where is the epidemic in France and Europe?

So far, three contaminated yards have been identified in the departments of Ardennes and Aisne, the Ministry of Agriculture said on Thursday. These new contaminations raised the risk level to “high” throughout the territory. The risk level had already changed to “moderate” on September 10.

Breeders located in around 6,000 municipalities therefore had to confine their birds, in particular along the Atlantic coast and the Rhône corridor – wetlands popular with migratory birds.

Since the beginning of August, 130 cases or outbreaks of avian influenza have been detected in wild animals or on farms in Europe, especially along the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Last week, Dutch authorities also ordered all their farmers to confine their animals following the discovery of the H5 strain of bird flu on a farm in the central province of Flevoland, according to the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture. “About 36,000 birds were slaughtered on the farm (in the Netherlands) to prevent the spread of the virus,” it said in a statement.

An increase in findings of dead wild birds in the north of the Netherlands and infected wild birds in Germany has also been reported, while six outbreaks have been detected in turkey farms in the Verona region of Italy since October 19.

How does bird containment work?

From November 15th to March 15th, the birds will have to be raised on farms and on a “reduced course”. They can no longer be raised entirely outdoors in order to limit contamination from wild animals outside. The barns, they will also have to be confined or netted.

“Up to 10 weeks, our birds must be raised exclusively indoors, then on a reduced and controlled route that allows better monitoring of our animals and avoids external contamination”, indicates Bernard Tauzia, president of the National Union of Poultry Labels of France ( Synalaf), which represents regional organizations producing free-range poultry and eggs under the official labels Label Rouge and Organic Agriculture.

Video. Avian flu in Europe: in November 2020, Bruges confined its 120 swans

Other measures result from this confinement of birds, indicates the Ministry of Agriculture in its press release. It is therefore strictly prohibited to organize gatherings, such as contests for example, and racing pigeons until March 31. Conditions for the transport and introduction into the natural environment of game birds will be reinforced and vaccination will be mandatory in zoos for birds that cannot be confined or placed under nets. All accompanied by clinical follow-up on all commercial and non-commercial farms.

What does the industry say?

“It is an adaptation solution that nobody likes, but after consultations with the Ministry of Agriculture, it is the only one that allows us to prevent an increase in the spread of the virus”, explains Bernard Tauzia, president of Synalaf. Because what counts for the sector is above all to prevent the virus from taking hold in the territory, with all the terrible consequences that this can have, from the total blockade of exports to the slaughter of millions of animals.

However, this measure is not to everyone’s taste. In a press release published at the end of October, the Confédération paysanne warned of the danger and ineffectiveness of annual containment measures in the face of the avian influenza epidemic. “A free-range chicken, therefore, will only go out for two weeks of its life and in a course 8 times smaller than the current one. For laying hens, festive birds, these measures are simply inapplicable and go against animal welfare”, judges the confederation, which also warns of the risk of certain breeders losing their organic and outdoor label.

“Our DNA is the great journey, it is outdoor breeding, so it is certain that it is not ideal, and that it disturbs our traditional methods”, recognizes Bernard Tauzia. But in the face of the resurgence of the virus, it is the best solution we have found at the moment.” Because once installed, “it is extremely difficult to get rid of bird flu”, laments the president, who insists on the need to take stock when the risk is no longer as high as it is now.

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