EUROPEAN nations are beginning to push for vaccination against avian influenza amidst the worst ever winter for the disease on the continent.
France is to trial two vaccines as part of a “roadmap” it outlined in spring last year to bring the virus under control and prevent mass culling of poultry every winter.
French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said producers had “put a lot” into biosecurity measures, but now was the time to consider vaccination as another form of defence – and suggested a Europe-wide position should be found.
His comments are significant as France currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The country is particularly vulnerable to avian influenza because of the extensive nature of poultry production, particularly in the southwest, where smallholders typically keep a mixture of avian species together on one holding.
No simple answer
Vaccination is not a simple answer to controlling avian influenza – firstly because of the number of distinct strains of AI.
It is also difficult to distinguish between the virus in vaccinated birds and those infected by wild strains.
Many countries, therefore, have a blanket ban on importing poultrymeat from countries that do choose to vaccinate birds.
In the Netherlands, free-range egg producers are also beginning to push for a more permanent solution to the problem caused by eggs by default becoming barn-reared after 16 weeks from the date a housing order is declared.
The Dutch had a housing order in place from autumn 2020 through until summer 2021, and rehoused birds again just three months later.
Producers in the country are also hoping to start trials into an avian influenza vaccine.
Across Europe, there is currently a lobbying effort to have the 16-week derogation scrapped altogether this year, and for a more permanent solution to be found.
Euwep, which represents packers and processors across the continent, said: The continuity of the free-range sector is at stake.
“The experience over recent years shows that [after a housing order] it takes around half a year to regain 70%-80% of the previous free-range market.
“The remaining 20 30% costs around a year to get it back – if these consumers return at all.”
Denmark, France the Netherlands and Italy’s 16-week derogations will end in February, leading to free-range eggs being downgraded to barn for a third winter season. Many European countries, and the UK, will follow in March.