New outbreaks of avian influenza in Europe

New outbreaks of avian influenza in Europe

New outbreaks of avian influenza have been reported among wild birds and poultry across Europe since the end of October 2016. The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N8 virus is identified in Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

EFSA investigation

EFSA experts are supporting Member States in their data collection activities. These collections are aimed at identifying how the virus enters poultry farms and the risks posed by wild birds. This information will help EFSA to re-assess the risk of introduction of avian influenza into the EU. The risk assessment is based on new scientific knowledge. The updated scientific advice will be published in 2017.

The European Commission has called on Member States to be vigilant and to reduce the risk of further outbreaks. They will do so by taking measures such as increasing biosecurity levels in poultry holdings and backyard flocks.

EFSA has worked on this topic extensively in recent years. Its work has included a scientific opinion on migratory wild birds and their possible role in the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses.



Dossier USA: US cage-free egg layer flock is rapidly increasing, Terrence O’Keefe, November 16, 2015. Poultry housing expansion projects are being shifted to cage-free as the number of restaurant chains making cage-free egg purchasing pledges continues to grow.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that, in September 2015, the U.S. had 23.6 million hens housed cage free, a 37 percent increase from the agency’s September 2014 estimate. Pledges to purchase eggs from cage-free layers by major restaurant chains and food companies are driving this increase.

Industry sources expect the U.S. cage-free layer flock to continue to grow at a rapid rate. Among the many projects underway, the three largest egg producers in the U.S. are designing and building cage-free farms that will become the largest cage-free egg facilities in North America.

Cage-free laying flock increasing

USDA estimates for the size of the cage-free layer flock in the U.S., for organic and non-organic egg production, are published on a semi-annual basis (see Figure 1). From March 2013 through March 2015, the size of organic and non-organic cage-free layer flocks were roughly equal, with both increasing by a little over 1 million hens in this two-year period.

The sale of other (non-organic) eggs is expected to increase more rapidly than organic eggs sales during the next few years.
Between March and September 2015, the rate of growth of the organic and non-organic layer flocks increased. The size of the U.S. organic layer flock increased by 19 percent in this six-month period, while at the same time the non-organic or “other cage-free” layer flocks increased by 27 percent.

Egg producers announce expansion

Several announcements of new farm projects for housing cage-free laying hens by major U.S. egg producers have been made in the past year. Hickman Family Farms followed up on McDonald’s cage-free purchase pledge with the announcement that it will add capacity to house 2 million cage-free layers at exiting Arizona locations.

“Cage free is just the next logical step in providing eggs to our markets and comfort for our hens,” CEO Glenn Hickman said. “Our customers are moving to cage-free faster than the regulatory environment is requiring it, so we want to ensure abundant supplies. It’s the future of our industry and our business.” Based on published reports, Hickman cage-free houses will use aviary systems.

On October 21, 2015, a ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the start of production at Red River Valley Egg Farm located near Bogota, Texas. This cage-free egg farm is a joint venture between Rose Acre Farms and Cal-Maine Foods, the two largest egg producers in the U.S.
The farm’s plan calls for an initial capacity of 1.8 million cage-free layers and the site is permitted for up to 3 million. The layers will be housed in convertible modules designed by Rose Acre Farms.

On October 13, 2015, Rembrandt Foods, the third-largest egg producer in the U.S. and one of the largest egg products suppliers, announced that all of its future farm projects would be cage free. The company had previously announced that it would construct a 7 million-layer facility which would come online in 2017.

Jonathon Spurway, vice present of marketing, Rembrandt Foods, said that the farm on the drawing board will now be cage free, but that it won’t house 7 million hens. “Any further investments will be aligned to cage-free as our standard,” Spurway said. “The company will have multiple large-scale investments come online.”

Spurway said Rembrandt doesn’t have plans to convert its houses with cages to cage free at this time.
“The industry isn’t going to switch to entirely cage free in the next 10 years,” he said. “Even foodservice outlets like McDonald’s that have made announcements have transitions over a number of years. We are moving quicker than I expected, but I am excited because it offers an opportunity.”

“The consumer is driving the behavior that, ‘I want cage-free eggs at a minimum.’ There is a segment of the population, and it is a large segment, that are willing to pay for cage free or whatever might drive them,” he added.

Forecast for more cage-free layers
The USDA doesn’t publish a forecast for the future size of the cage-free layer flock in the U.S., but industry sources suggest that the rapid growth in the number of cage-free layers seen in 2015 will continue into 2016. Sales of housing systems to U.S. egg producers have seen dramatic shifts in the past 10 years. A market that was dominated by sale of conventional cages saw a shift first to enriched/enrichable cages and now to cage-free systems.

Increasing demand for cage-free eggs in the U.S. has shifted investment in pullet and layer housing to cage-free systems. | Photo courtesy of Big Dutchman

Sources report that, for the first time in decades, the sales of cage-free housing systems in the U.S. in 2015, in terms of number of hens that can be housed, exceeded spaces sold for cage housing. This is expected to continue as sales of even “enrichable” cages fall to very low levels. If all of the cage-free systems that are expected to be installed by the end of 2016 were fully stocked, the U.S. would have about 19 million more cage-free layers then it had in September 2015. Because it can take a year or more to fully stock a large layer complex, these new projects will not all be fully housed by the end of 2016.

Other factors to consider

The U.S. table egg and egg products markets have traditionally been white egg and white bird markets. Cage-free customers in the U.S. have tended to prefer brown eggs, but as cage-free becomes more mainstream, expect a shift to white eggs, particularly for egg products.

All cage-free systems are not alike in how they allow the three-dimensional space inside a house to be utilized for housing hens. “Combi” or “convertible” systems will compete with aviary systems for share in the non-organic cage-free market. More traditional floor systems will likely continue to dominate the organic cage-free market, because they are more suitable for providing hens the required outdoor access.


Dossier AI: Transmission of Avian Influenza Virus to Dogs

Avian influenza was found in a dog on a farm in South Gyeongsang Province amid growing concerns that the disease could spread to other animals, officials the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said. The dog ― one of three at a duck farm in Goseong-gun, South Gyeongsang Province ― had antigens for the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain of bird flu, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said. The disease affected the farm on Jan. 23.

Since the first case of a dog being infected with the poultry virus in March 2014, there have been 55 dogs found with antibodies to the bird flu virus. The antibody means the immune system of the dogs eliminated the virus. This is the first time bird flu has been found in a dog in Korea through the detection of antigens.

“None of these dogs had shown symptoms. No antigens or antibodies for the virus were found in the two other dogs, which means that dog-to-dog transmission is unlikely to have happened,” quarantine officials said.

The ministry suspected that the dog may have eaten infected animals at the farm. All poultry and dogs at the concerned farm were slaughtered as part of the preventive measures right after the farm was reported to have been infected with the disease, officials said.

Meanwhile, quarantine officials rejected the possibility of viral transmission to humans. According to the ministry’s report, about 450 workers at infected farms across the country had been given an antigen test, with none showing signs of infection. None of Korea’s 20,000 farm workers have reported any symptoms so far, officials added.

“It is thought that infected dogs do not show symptoms of the disease as they are naturally resistant to bird flu,” the ministry said. Meanwhile, the Agriculture Ministry has toughened the quarantine measures in Goseong-gun. The region is a frequented by migratory birds, which are suspected to have spread the viral disease.


Dossier H5N1: Spreading patterns global H5N1 outbreaks match bird migration patterns

The global spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 in poultry, wild birds and humans, poses a significant pandemic threat and a serious public health risk.

An efficient surveillance and disease control system relies on the understanding of the dispersion patterns and spreading mechanisms of the virus. A space-time cluster analysis of H5N1 outbreaks was used to identify spatio-temporal patterns at a global scale and over an extended period of time.

Potential mechanisms explaining the spread of the H5N1 virus, and the role of wild birds, were analyzed. Between December 2003 and December 2006, three global epidemic phases of H5N1 influenza were identified.

These H5N1 outbreaks showed a clear seasonal pattern, with a high density of outbreaks in winter and early spring (i.e., October to March). In phase I and II only the East Asia Australian flyway was affected. During phase III, the H5N1 viruses started to appear in four other flyways: the Central Asian flyway, the Black Sea Mediterranean flyway, the East Atlantic flyway and the East Africa West Asian flyway.

Six disease cluster patterns along these flyways were found to be associated with the seasonal migration of wild birds. The spread of the H5N1 virus, as demonstrated by the space-time clusters, was associated with the patterns of migration of wild birds. Wild birds may therefore play an important role in the spread of H5N1 over long distances.

Disease clusters were also detected at sites where wild birds are known to overwinter and at times when migratory birds were present. This leads to the suggestion that wild birds may also be involved in spreading the H5N1 virus over short distances.


Dossier Taiwan: H5N3 as the third bird flu strain identified in Taiwan outbreak

A third highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza that is new to Taiwan was identified Friday as outbreaks of bird flu have spread to more poultry farms on the island, animal health authorities said Friday.

Chang Su-san, director general of the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, told a press conference that birds on 101 goose, duck and chicken farms in northern, central and southern parts of the island have been confirmed to be infected with the H5N2, H5N8 or H5N3 subtypes of bird flu virus.

Tsai Hsiang-jung, director general of the Animal Health Research Institute under the Cabinet’s Council of Agriculture, said DNA sequencing indicates it is a hybrid of an N3 strain responsible for the outbreaks Thailand in 2012, in Mongolia in 2010, and Kaohsiung last year, and an H5 strain responsible for outbreaks among poultry in South Korea last year. The new strain – H5N3 – was found at two goose farms in Kaohsiung and Pingung, both in southern Taiwan, marking the first time for the strain to be identified in Taiwan.

The new H5N2 strain has so far only been found in Taiwan. DNA sequencing indicates it is a hybrid of an H5N2 strain that was responsible for outbreaks among poultry in South Korea last year and China in 2011.

As for the H5N8 subtype, the latest bird flu outbreaks mark the first time for it to be identified in Taiwan. Outbreaks among poultry were reported in Europe, South Korea, China and Japan last year. It is believed to pose little or no risk to humans.

Authorities indicated that the viruses may have been carried to Taiwan by migratory birds.

On a press conference, organized by the animal welfare organization EAST in Taipei on Friday January 29 2015, the Taiwanese authorities said that they would respect the OIE Terrestrial Code on Killing of Animals for Disease Prevention and Control during culling operations, indicating that they are using approved techniques to apply CO2. The techniques are generally described in the OIE Terrestrial Code. The code does not provide the Standard Operational Procedures to apply these techniques. Applying CO2 by adding a gas tube into a plastic bag is not described as an approved method.


Dossier Vaccination: what causes poultry vaccination to fail

This is the third presentation on vaccination, posted recently by Dr. Ossama Motawae, an Egyptian veterinarian. In this presentation, he explains what causes vaccination programs to fail. An interesting presentation for those who are not so familiar with the day-to-day practice of poultry vaccination.


EFSA Opinion on electrical requirements for poultry waterbath stunning equipment

In July 2014, EFSA provided her opinion on a study that proposes parameters for poultry electrical waterbath stunning different to those laid down in Council Regulation EU 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing.

The submitted study reports upon the use (mean + SD) of a current of 104.00 ± 3.88 mA, a voltage of 125.86 ± 3.28 V and a frequency of 589.78 ± 0.63 Hz using a square wave in alternating current (AC) with a 50 % duty cycle. These conditions were applied for 15 seconds to chickens under laboratory and slaughterhouse conditions.
The methodology and the data reported do not provide conclusive evidence that the combination of the proposed electrical frequency and current induced unconsciousness without exposing the chickens to avoidable pain and suffering, and some chickens did not remain unconscious for a sufficient time to prevent avoidable pain and suffering during slaughter.

EFSA stated in their report that it was doubtful that recovery of consciousness could be avoided prior to neck cutting and/or during bleeding. The minimum duration of unconsciousness was reported to be 11 seconds, which is too short to permit a feasible stun-to-stick interval. Further, it is also doubtful that recovery of consciousness could be avoided prior to neck cutting and/or during bleeding. The minimum time to resumption of breathing was reported to be 8 seconds following stunning.

Application of a current less than that required inducing immediate unconsciousness causes pain, distress and suffering. The study failed to demonstrate absence of pain and suffering until onset of unconsciousness. The minimum duration of unconsciousness was too short to ensure unconsciousness until death by bleeding.


AVT session 3: Occupational Health & Safety

This third presentation of a series of 6 AVT presentations on Occupational Health & Safety risks related to outbreaks of Avian Influenza.


AVT session 5: Applying the Anoxia Technique

This fifth presentation of a series of 6 AVT presentations on Applying the Anoxia technique within the poultry industry.


Industrialization of Poultry Production in China

Poultry meat and eggs were not traditionally an important part of the Chinese diet. They were considered luxury goods for consumption on special occasions. Over the past three decades, however, China’s per capita poultry consumption has increased from barely 1kg to over 9kg per year. Today, the poultry industry in China is dominated by chicken production which comprises 70 to 80 percent of all poultry production. On a macro level, by 2011 the country was already the second largest producer of poultry meat and eggs in the world and the size of the industry continues to expand.

This report tracks the growth of the Chinese poultry industry during the past three decades and the implications of this development. China’s poultry industry is going through rapid industrialization, characterized by intensification of farming, horizontal consolidation and vertical integration. Both the size of the industry and changes in poultry production practices (in conjunction with development in the livestock sector as a whole) have significant implications for public health, the environment, rural livelihoods and animal welfare.

The poultry industry is, in some ways, the most vertically integrated and industrialized system of livestock production in China. The policy emphasis in this sector (like all other meat sectors in China) is on scaling up and further intensification. The sector has a large number of firms competing over low prices with low profit margins, leading to immense pressure by firms to cut costs. At the same time, to remain competitive and meet production and consumption targets, firms are dramatically increasing production—raising more and more birds in confined spaces.

Population growth, rising income and urbanization are commonly seen as the main drivers of poultry demand in China. However, government policy choices, growth and marketing of quick service restaurants (QSRs) and super markets, food safety concerns, costs of production (labor, land and feed) and environmental limitations (including feed, land and water constraints) have and will continue to shape demand in the livestock sector and poultry is no exception.

With rising concentrations of poultry in production facilities, more food safety scandals are coming to light. Scandals such as the KFC “instant chicken” scandal where more than 18 different antibiotics and other chemicals were found in retail chicken and epidemics such as the recent avian flu outbreak in 2013 lead to sharp drops in poultry demand. And they are changing the way poultry is marketed and consumed. The cost-cutting practices are also leading to serious worker safety issues as demonstrated by the fire that killed a 120 people in the Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Plant last summer.

Food safety concerns, in turn, are driving the government and consumers to demand greater control of the supply chain, slowly shifting consumer habits towards more processed poultry bought in supermarkets. Currently, most livestock products in China are distributed by many small traders. Outside tier-one cities, the cold chain is still fragmented, supporting wet markets as the major distribution channel. However, the biggest future shift seems to be the expansion of organized retail in marketing poultry products—taking away the share from wet markets. And retail outlets are capitalizing on food safety concerns as a way to increase their market share and will contribute to shifting production practices by exerting greater control over the supply chain.

However, wet markets and consumer preferences for fresh meat will continue to dominate the Chinese market in the coming decade. Wet markets are being singled out as a major source of disease epidemics; while “specialized” producers, much smaller and weaker than the firms that contract with them, are being blamed for food safety issues. Food safety concerns are also facilitating major global powers such as Tyson to acquire farms in China and control the entire production process through a “grow out” model that owns and manages the entire supply chain—providing organized retail with a “traceable” supply of industrial poultry, building consumer confidence that the product is “safe.” Tyson, Cargill and Brazil’s Marfrig and BRF are all integrating themselves in the Chinese market. Meanwhile, the top Chinese companies such as Wens are producing close to a billion birds a year, through contracts with farmers, to meet Chinese demand. Specialized (smaller farms) are either rapidly disappearing or consolidating into much larger scale of production to remain competitive. All signs indicate that this process is set to intensify in the years to come as both poultry production and consumption are expected to grow.

China is a net importer of poultry meat in terms of volume and a major importer of poultry by-products, such as wings and feet and internal organs which are considered offal in the rest of the world. However, China’s poultry imports have been very volatile in the last 15 years because of frequent trade disputes, particularly with the U.S. In 2011, three-fourths of China’s poultry imports were from Brazil and more Brazilian processors are receiving certification to export to China contingent on food safety standards. Brazilian companies are competing with U.S. ones for top export spot for various poultry parts. Imports of chicken feet from Brazil have declined, while those from the U.S. have dramatically increased since April 2011. Brazil is China’s biggest wing exporter. Despite a declining overall trend in imports in recent years, Rabobank believes that China’s poultry imports will increase because of China’s complementary market for offal compared to the rest of the world. Chinese companies are also expected to invest more overseas in Brazil, Argentina and the U.S. to secure poultry supply for the Chinese market.

The industrial model of production continues to present significant challenges to China’s food safety, public health, environment and viable rural livelihoods. The report demonstrates that a much more systemic analysis is needed to examine the true costs of this model and the costs and benefits of consuming poultry produced in this manner. A finer look at the structure of the market, firm behavior and price competition is urgently needed to understand the perverse incentives this model is creating to cut costs upstream. This “race to the bottom” is leading to a host of problems related to food safety, worker health and posing significant challenges in building a remunerative and regenerative agriculture system that involves small producers. The current model, as in the U.S., continues to externalize the true costs of this production at the expense of much healthier and agroecological choices. However, deliberate policy choices have the potential to alter this system towards a more sustainable pathway in the coming decade. Some alternatives such as Beijing’s organic market and community supported agriculture projects are already underway as Chinese urban consumers are waking up to the health and ecological costs of this mode of production. It is hoped that this report contributes to such a rethink on alternatives to the current approach.