European rabbit production in deep trouble

Because in practice, farmed rabbits get sick, old or cannot be used for scientific testing (up to 1/3 of all farmed test animals cannot be used because they don’t fit the test profile), they have to be killed, either at the slaughterhouse (meat production) or on the farm facility. Up to January 1, 2013, using a high concentration of Co2 killed the rabbits.

That process was declared illegal, after the introduction of EU Directive EU 1099/2009 that only allows the following techniques to kill rabbits:

• Penetrative captive bolt device
• Firearm with free projectile
• Percussive blow to the head
• Lethal injection

All these techniques require an intensive contact between animals and operators. In case of an outbreak, using labor-intensive techniques need to be avoided, based on costs and the risks of spreading through human intervention. So what are the options: A new technique needs to be introduced to the European Food Safety Authority EFSA of the scientific committee of DG SANCO.

However sympathetic the scientific committee thinks about the need to develop a new technique for large-scale killing of rabbits, the industry has to take the initiative to present a complete science-based report, that is conducted according to Guidance on the assessment criteria for studies evaluating the effectiveness of stunning interventions regarding animal protection at the time of killing.

The Panel on Animal Health and Welfare was asked to deliver a scientific opinion on the use of carbon dioxide for stunning rabbits. Specifically, EFSA was asked to give its view on the findings of the study performed by the Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain) and the Animal Technology Centre CITA-ITAVIA “Estudio sobre la valoración mediante parámetros técnicos y de manejo del sistema de aturdimiento con gas CO2”. (red: “Study on the assessment by technical parameters and system management with CO2 gas stunning.”).

The answer was not at all satisfactory for the rabbit industry: As a first step, the type of study, critical variables, experimental design, data collection and analysis and reporting methods needed to supply scientific evidence that the use of CO2 is an acceptable alternative for the stunning of rabbits were defined. These criteria were then applied to the study.

The submitted study was not adequate for a full welfare assessment of the alternative method studied because it does not fulfill the eligibility criteria and the reporting quality criteria defined, according to the opinion of the committee. Follow this link to se the entire report. The rabbit industry has to raise sufficient funds to bring forward a complete report, ticking all the boxes, to enable EFSA to review the killing method proposed. First after EFSA is convinced that the proposed method is an improvement, the technique is accepted, meaning that in line with EU 1099/2009 all criteria like training & certification described in EU 1099/2009 need to be in considered as well.

Why is this so significant? Let’s assume that the rabbit industry would like to use the Anoxia method for killing rabbits. The method needs to go through the entire EFSA procedure before it can be applied within the rabbit industry. That would be the best option, but it still include going to the entire process of approval.

This makes it so hard to introduce better and more animal welfare friendly techniques like the Anoxia method to be applied within the EU. The rabbit industry is relatively small, but they have to fulfill the rules within the directive, if not, it will be the end of this industry if they do not come up with a solution that is validated and approved by EFSA.


Lotta Berg: Poultry Emergency Euthanasia

Outbreaks of animal diseases are well documented throughout modern history. Major outbreaks have damaging consequences for animal welfare, for the industry and often cause major disruptions in food supply, especially within the poultry industry. In order to avoid these consequences, killing methods and techniques have been developed to kill poultry on farm, as well as development dedicated emergency plans, guidelines, procedures to shoulder efforts to reduce and prevent large-scale outbreaks.

Despite all these efforts in the past, outbreaks continue to occur. New, integrated methods for culling and disposal must be developed to combat outbreaks that cannot be mitigated or prevented by vaccination. These methods should be capable of supporting large-scale, quick culling campaigns and cadaver disposals without further spreading of diseases, transfer to humans, or putting a liability on the environment. In the EU, although Regulation 1099/2009 covers culling operations, the present techniques often are not compliant, or are often applied in an improper way.

On March 17, 2014, Dr. Lotta Berg, one of Europe’s leading experts in this field and Swedens’ representative within the European Food Safety Authority EFSA, presented at Neiker Tecnalia in Victoria-Gasteiz (Spain) her vision on emergency response, referring to the EU Directive EU 1099/2009. She covered in her presentation the following subjects:

• Different types of poultry and poultry production
• Reasons for euthanasia
• Large‐scale emergencies
• Contingency planning
• Monitoring animal welfare at on‐farm killing
• Critical points, follow‐up and reporting
• Different methods in practice
• Non‐emergency euthanasia

Dr. Berg concluded in her presentation that the Anoxia technique (N2 gas foam) is applicable for killing poultry on small-, medium- and large-scale poultry operations.


Dossier H7N9: Chickens can’t talk

AFP, March 11, 2014. Poultry dealers in Hangzhou (China) accuse the government of shutting the markets without scientific evidence and demand compensation for the birds they were forced to slaughter or sell at rock-bottom prices. “Chickens can’t talk. Ducks can’t talk. We don’t know where bird flu came from: chickens, ducks or other birds,” said Li, at the Chengbei market in Hangzhou.

Authorities in the city, capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang, the centre of the current outbreak, shut down the market in January. The province has announced radical plans to ban — forever — all live poultry trading in urban areas, according to state media, and replace it with factory-slaughtered and frozen meat.

The handful of poultry dealers lingering at Chengbei Market have had little to do since Chinese authorities shut down their livelihoods after H7N9 bird flu began stalking the country again, killing scores of people this year. They spend their days counting the losses to their business, gambling at cards and cleaning the cages which once held thousands of live birds, hoping the government will allow the trade to resume. “The chickens lay every day and I can’t sell the eggs. We are losing money,” said Li Guiying, local boss of the Xuancheng Shandi Poultry Co.

H7N9 avian influenza has returned to China with a vengeance, sickening 226 people and killing 72 so far this year, as the government girds for what is likely to be a long battle to contain what one World Health Organization (WHO) official has labelled an “epidemic”. China has responded by aggressively closing down poultry markets in locations believed to be at threat from the virus, raising an outcry from the agricultural industry and consumers with a taste for freshly slaughtered food. But in the longer term the government needs to encourage a shift in behaviour of consumers and clean up the nation’s food supply chain, experts say, which has been hit by a series of health safety scandals.

Ultimately, fears exist that the H7N9 virus could mutate and become easily passed between people, rampaging through the world’s most populous country and crossing its borders to spread around the planet. After subsiding following the first outbreak early last year, H7N9 resurfaced in the autumn, then boomed. The figures for the first two months of the year exceed the tallies of 144 infections and 46 deaths for the whole of 2013.

The WHO and Chinese authorities maintain there is no evidence of “sustained” human transmission with H7N9, though there have been cases of family members in close contact infecting each other. But they acknowledge a seasonal spike in cases, possibly caused by the affinity of the virus for colder temperatures and humans’ greater susceptibility to illness in winter. “The big question always is, ‘does it go down as the season goes away or does it continue?'” said the WHO Representative in China, Bernhard Schwartländer. “We seem to start seeing a decrease again, which confirms the seasonal patterns, but there is of course no reason and no space to relax,” he said.

China’s National Poultry Industry Association estimates the sector has lost more than $3.0 billion so far this year, on top of the impact of the outbreak last year as consumers shunned fowl and markets stopped business. “Within the industry we call it a devastating hit, a crowning calamity. With our backs to the wall, it seems one cannot adequately depict the severity of the situation,” said the association’s secretary general Gong Guifen. “The selling of frozen chicken is more like an emergency response, whereas the industry as well as the public’s consumption habits cannot be changed overnight,” she said.

But poultry market closures were the most important measure to contain the virus, said WHO’s Regional Director for the Western Pacific Shin Young-soo. “Of course, I think the Chinese government should consider many other things. This has a huge impact on our daily life… on farmers, market people,” he said. In contrast to H5N1, a different strain of avian influenza which affected China earlier, H7N9 is harder to detect because it does not kill the birds that can pass it to humans, he pointed out. “H7N9 is more difficult because actually the bird and ducks, they’re… not really sick. It’s more difficult to control,” he said. “It’s very fatal to human beings,” he added. “We know that this virus (is) never going again. It’s coming back.”


Animal Health Crisis Management and Disease Control in Asia

At the invitation of DG SANCO, EFSA participated in the context of the Shanghai Expo 2010 in China to the Sino-European Food Safety Cooperation Forum, to the Seminar on Research for Healthy life and to the Securing Food Safety for a Healthy Life Day from 4 to 11 June.

Former Chief Veterinary Officer of FAO, Mr. Joseph Domenech delivered a lecture on Animal Health Crisis Management in with respect to Avian Influenza Control in Asia. The event was organised as part of the Better Training for Safer Food programme, which aims to train staff in Member States and Third Countries in official controls on food. The forum provided presentations and lectures by staff of the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority and Member States.

Lectures were also given by representatives of the Chinese General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Agriculture.


H7N9: Historical prevalence and distribution of H7N9 among wild birds

Source: Posted by Ian M Mackay on Virology Down under. CDC Emerging Infectious Diseases published a paper (Volume 19, Number 12—December 2013) on the Historical Prevalence and Distribution of Avian Influenza Virus A(H7N9) among Wild Birds. A very interesting document, it provides a better understanding on transmission of H7N9 under wild birds.

In this paper, the authors reviewed 48 published studies that listed findings of influenza A virus haemagglutin type H7, or neuramonase N9 viruses as well as H9N2. The prevalence was calculated as the number of positive samples divided by the by number tested.

H7N9 has been rarely reported from Delaware (USA), Alberta (Canada), Guatemala, Spain, Egypt, Mongolia and Taiwan but has not been reported from Russia, Japan, South Korea or China from birds sampled between 1976-2012.

The outcome? If you were planning wild bird surveillance to track H7N9 spread in these non-poultry animals, you’ll need to sample >30,000 wild birds to find 1 positive for H7N9 (its Asian prevalence was 0.00931%).

That’s a rare bird.
This is just a rough gauge of course because it is entirely dependent on when, where and how thoroughly bird populations were sampled, how they were sampled, what they were tested with and how the sequencing methods performed. It also focuses on HA and NA genes, at the expense of other internal influenza gene segments which also have an important role in the assemblage of new viruses.

Related links to this topic published by FAO-USGS on Avian Influenza Projects related to migrating birds:

Avian Influenza transmission risk & the Migratory Ecology of African wild ducks
Avian Influenza transmission risk & wild birds in Nigeria
Bangladesh: A source of Highly Pathogenic H5N1 infection in wild birds?
Ecology and Conservation of Wild Birds in the Poyang Lake Region: a Satellite Telemetry Pilot Project
Investigating the role of swans and geese from Eastern Mongolia in the potential spread of avian influenza virus.
Migratory birds and transmission of Highly Pathogenic H5N1 in Turkey
Movements of migratory waterfowl in the Middle East: Identifying at-risk areas for spread of avian influenza into Egypt
Movements of Wild Birds and Emerging Disease Risk from Hong Kong
Movements of Wild Birds and Emerging Disease Risk from India
Wild Bird Migratory Ecology, Emerging Disease Risk and Physiology in Western Mongolia
Wild Birds and Emerging Diseases: Avian Influenza Transmission Risk and Movements of Wild Birds from Kazakhstan
Wild Birds and Emerging Diseases: Modeling Avian Influenza Transmission Risk Between Domestic and Wild Birds in China


H7N9 in China: deaths jump significantly

Source: Posted on VDU’s blog by Ian M Mackay, Virology Down Under, 21 February 2014. Twitter was buzzing this morning with news that several sources had announced a new total number of deaths in human cases of H7N9 infection.

It was not a total surprise that there were more deaths than we had heard about, and that is for several reasons:

In Wave 1, Spring 2013 in South east China, there had been a greater proportion of deaths than we have seen in Wave 2. That’s seemed unusual.

After Wave 1, the proportion of fatal cases (PFC; see background here) sat up as high as 33%. Wave 2′s high case numbers but few reported deaths had lowered that to 18% at one point. If the virus hadn’t changed and human-to-human transmission had not changed then that was incongruous

The media were reporting higher numbers than we had data for in early Feb and in late Jan, Xinua reported 26 deaths in Zhejiang alone for 2014 – this far outstripped any publicly data available

So now we see that the tally is 112 fatal H7N9 cases among people infected with a laboratory confirmed H7N9 virus, since the outbreak began in 2013; that tally includes both waves of human cases. That makes the PFC among the 361 confirmed human cases at 31%. So this one new piece of news has bumped up the PFC by 10%. From 1:5 (22% last week) to nearly 1:3 cases dying after acquiring infection. Thankfully, H7N9 is not spreading efficiently among humans (or chickens according to reports). But these are numbers to care about. For comparison, my Excel sheet has 64 cases with data that I can cross-check (I believe that agrees with the FluTracker’s count also).

The last media update I looked at had a tally of 77 fatal outcomes.

So we have between 35-48 people have died without any ability for anyone outside China to link them to:

their age
when they became ill
where they were
how they may have acquired their infection
their sex
time to hospitalization and diagnosis
length of stay in hospital
what contacts they had and how they have fared.

I think that this is a ball that has been not just been dropped, but buried in a hole and covered over with feathers. I’m disappointed by such a gaping data loss. And don’t get me started about the absence of H7N9 sequences from 2014 cases!


1) SCMP with higher death tallies than public data indicated

2) Xinhua lists 26 deaths in Zhejiang alone for 2014

3) VDU blog on missing deaths

4) Mike Coston’s Avian Flu Diary take one the new data, with other sources

5) FluTracker’s thread with links to eth WHO report

6) China’s Ministry of Agriculture report of enlarged H7N9 death tally

7) The WHO report under the “vaccines” section