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Bird flu outbreak at Flemish farm rattles poultry industry

Chickens seen in a cage at a poultry farm in Belgium (BELGA PHOTO)
09:59 27/11/2020

An outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza – bird flu – has been found at a poultry farm in West Flanders, according to Afsca, the Federal Agency for Food Chain Safety. The chickens at the farm in Menen have all since been slaughtered.

"This is a new blow for our country's poultry sector, whose economic situation is already very difficult," the Walloon Federation of Agriculture (FWA) said in a statement reacting to the outbreak in Flanders. "This is a disaster for this farm, but also for all the breeders in our country. Indeed, Belgium's industry will lose its status of being untouched by avian influenza and will now face the economic consequences that will most likely result from that."

Cases of avian influenza have been on the rise in several European countries over the last few weeks. At the beginning of November, Afsca confirmed that the virus, the H5N5, was present in wild birds in Belgium. Since 15 November, in addition to professional farms, private poultry owners have been told to confine or protect their animals.

According to the FWA, avian influenza poses no risk to human health and consumers can safely continue to buy poultry and eggs without the slightest concern. "Health monitoring of livestock farms is continuous and strict,” the FWA statement said. “There is no risk to human health.”

The FWA called on consumers to show solidarity. "It is important to support our poultry sector, whose economic health depends more than ever on the support of our citizens," it said.

This new crisis comes at a time when Belgium is still struggling with the coronavirus pandemic. "Before this outbreak of avian influenza was reported, the FWA had already alerted the Walloon Minister of Agriculture about the situation in the sector, and asked in particular for support for the voluntary reduction of production as well as a redoubled effort by AWEX (Walloon Export Agency) to open up promising markets," the federation said.

Written by Nick Amies