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How Belgian farmers managed non-notifiable AI

hens in poultry shed

IN APRIL last year, a non-notifiable stain of low-path H3N1 avian influenza was discovered on a few farms in the south-east of the country.

It quickly escalated, and with a lack of official controls, more than 80 farms were affected in total.

It is worth reviewing that outbreak, given concerns over the non-notifiable avian influenza outbreaks happening across the UK at present.

Layers and breeders

The Belgian holdings initially affected were a mixture of laying hen units and breeder businesses that were reporting egg drops and higher mortality.

It was unclear for some time as to whether the symptoms were caused solely by the AI or another underlying condition.

The strain appeared to be a particular risk to older birds, and in many ways did not act like low-path avian influenza.

Either way, because the strain was neither an H5 or H7 variant, no official notification scheme, control measures or compensation was available to farmers affected.

Furthermore, the Belgian government could not intervene without potentially breaking European state aid rules.

Stuck

It left producers in a quandary. Without control measures or compensation, farmers were reluctant to cull, and no official notifications made it more difficult to understand how many farms were affected.

By early May, more than 25 farms were affected, rising to 41 by the end of the month.

It wasn’t until early June that the Belgian government received approval from the EU Commission to compensate for the culling of chickens. By then at least 60 farms were infected.

A small number of farms in France and Luxembourg also tested positive

Farms that had culled birds before the approval were unable to claim compensation, leaving many of the affected businesses out of pocket.

New infections petered out over the summer, with 82 cases reported in total over about five months.


No new cases

The saga ended with an official screening programme, which took place in September. More than 550 farms were tested with none found positive for the virus.

With H6N1 understood to be circulating in the UK, it is worth reviewing this outbreak and the damage it caused – despite being a supposed “low path” strain of avian influenza.