Avian influenza spreads to turkey flock in France

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Avian influenza Influenza Influenza pandemic

In an ominous sign for processors and the public, France has
slaughtered turkeys at a farm suspected of being infected with the
deadly form of avian influenza, possibly marking the first time the
disease has spread to domestic stock in the EU's largest poultry

The march of avian influenza into domestic stocks can only strengthen the public's already hightened fears over the safety of the bloc's poultry. Poultry consumption has plunged in many EU member states, by up to 70 per cent in some countries.

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.

France's agriculture ministry said the farm is located in Joyeux, in the Ain district, where a strong mortality was noted yesterday morning. The farm has about 11,000 turkeys and is in the same district of south-east of France where the country's first two cases of H5N1 in two wild ducks were detected over the last two weeks.

A veterinary surgeon suspected the dead birds were infected with the highly pathogenic form of bird flu and immediately informed the authorities, the ministry stated in a press release.

The dead birds were sent to be tested for the highly pathogenic virus H5N1. The ministry expects the results today. The farm has been quarantined according to EU law.

The farm's residents have been forbidden to leave unless necessary. Government has set up a system to disinfect vehicles and protective equipment was given to the farmer and officials working in the zone, the ministry stated.

Last week, the French government ordered all domestic birds indoors.

Wild birds with highly pathogenic avian influenza have been detected in France, Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy, Greece, Austria, Hungary and Germany, in addition to the accession countries Bulgaria and Romania and Turkey.

Affected EU member states are implementing strict protection and surveillance zones around the location where H5N1 infected wild birds have been found. In addition, the EU has approved the vaccination of bird flocks in certain areas of the Netherlands and France.

Vaccination is being permitted in selected southern areas of France that are believed to be at risk from avian influenza. The free-range ducks and geese in this region are not easy to put 'indoors' and are therefore at risk of contact with wild birds that may be carrying the virus, according to an European Commission repot.

The vaccination programme will begin immediately and will continue until 1 April 2006. Sentinel birds, which are unvaccinated control birds, will be used as part of the monitoring for avian influenza.

Vaccinated poultry, their hatching eggs and day-old chicks cannot be exported or moved to any third country, including countries in the EU. There are strict conditions on the movement of vaccinated birds within France. Fresh meat and meat products from vaccinated poultry will be able to be sold in the EU, provided the safety conditions have been complied with by the farm.

The steady creep of avian influenza toward the heart of the EU is feeding into consumers' fears about their health and the safety of the bloc's poultry flocks. Earlier this year, four children died in Turkey, the first ever confirmed deaths of humans due to bird flu outside of Asia. The deaths and the encroachment into the EU's borders makes for a dismal prognosis for poultry processors who face both a narrowing of their supply sources and a fall in consumption demand.

H5N1 was first detected in birds in the WHO European Region in late July 2005. Since then, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has reported confirmed cases of H5N1 in birds in elevencountries in the region.

The WHO global pandemic alert remains unchanged at level three. Avian influenza is still primarily an animal disease. It has caused disease in humans, but is not yet spreading efficiently and sustainably among humans.

The Italian farmers' association report reported last week that the industry is losing €6m a day, and has lost a total of about €650m so far.

The Italian poultry market annually produces 13bn eggs, 430m chickens, 40m hens, 36m turkeys and 100m other species for a total of 1,200,000 tonnes of meat. The agricultural sector had a turnover of €4.2bn, the association reported.

The IGD survey found that 40 per cent of consumers in the UK were "worried or rather worried" about their health due to the risk of avian flu spreading.

In France and Spain the figure is 50 per cent, while 30 per cent of Germans feel the same way about the disease. The survey found that the spread of the disease had not seemed to affect British attitudes toward buying chicken.

About 80 per cent of those surveyed reported no change in their purchasing habits. About 12 to 13 per cent reported they bought less, while about eight per cent reported buying more. Younger shoppers are more likely than any other age demographic group to have changed their purchasing behaviour, the survey found.

The IGD also reported that 17 per cent of shopper who eat out bought less British poultry compared to nine per cent of those who cook from scratch.

Lessons learned from previous outbreaks of BSE and food and mouth diseases in livestock indicate that the industry needs to ensure they provide a credible source of information about avian influenza, the IGD said.

Other countries consumption falls are also indicative of the fear affecting the industry. Poultry sales in Turkey have dropped by 70 per cent since bird flu was reported in humans earlier in January, according to a report in Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper. Kemal Akman, head of the union of poultry producers, is quoted as saying the industry would suffer losses amounting to €30 million per month.

In Spain, the bird flu scare resulted in a short-lived reduction in poultry meat consumption during late October and early November. By the third week of November poultry consumption had rebounded to top that of the previous year by 13 per cent, the Spanish government said.

Now H5N1 avian influenza is in Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Africa, along with its original starting point in east Asia. The disease has led to the culling of millions of poultry.

Since the latest outbreak began in December 2003, avian flu has killed more than 90 people in four Southeast Asian countries and killed or led to culling of an estimated 200 million birds across the region and in Turkey and Russia.

Indonesia vaccinated 114 million poultry against avian flu with traditionally made vaccine in 2004. India last week confirmed the presence of avian flu and has started a mass culling of poultry.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that the virus could become entrenched in the Black Sea, Caucasus and Near East regions through trade and movement of people and animals and it could be further spread by migratory birds particularly coming from Africa in the spring.

"Fighting the avian influenza virus in animals is the most effective and cost-effective way to reduce the likelihood of H5N1 mutating or reassorting to cause a human flu pandemic,"​ the FAO stated. "Containing bird flu in domestic animals - mostly chickens and ducks - will significantly reduce the risk to humans. Avian influenza should not only be considered as a human health issue, but as a human and animal health issue."

The FAO has expressed growing concern that the bird flu virus H5N1 may spread to other countries in West Africa following the discovery of the virus in Nigeria earlier this month.

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