Nations pare back avian flu efforts, but tough new steps in France

Some countries hit by avian flu outbreaks over the winter are scaling back some of their response measures as the pace of new outbreaks eases, but farmers in France's southwestern foie gras production were ordered to cull their birds and halt production for 6 weeks in an aggressive new control step.

France's foie gras industry has been hit hard by outbreaks 2 years in a row and has battled the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain reported by several European countries, plus some in the Middle East and Africa. France has also battled four other low-pathogenic strains: H5N2, H5N1, H5N3, and H5N9.

Easing restrictions in some countries

South Korea is stepping down its avian flu alert by one category from the highest level effective tomorrow, Reuters reported today, citing the country's agriculture ministry.

Officials said the country experienced its worst-ever avian flu season, which began in November and led to the culling of 37 million poultry. No new outbreaks have been reported since Apr 4.

The outbreaks in South Korea this season were marked by highly pathogenic H5N8 as well its first appearance of highly pathogenic H5N6.

Meanwhile, Japan said in an update to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) today that it lifted movement and shipment restrictions on poultry from Miyagi and Chiba prefectures, since culling has been completed and 21 days have passed with no new H5N6 outbreaks.

In a separate report to the OIE today, Japan detailed 168 H5N6 detections in wild birds found dead across a wide portion of the country from Nov 18 to Mar 8. Testing confirmed the virus in birds from 26 different species, though swans were hardest hit.

Elsewhere, the UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced on Apr 10 that, as of Apr 13, poultry in high-risk areas will be able to be kept outside again. Earlier this season, officials ordered the poultry be housed indoors or in netting to protect them from wild birds carrying avian flu viruses.

DEFRA said, however, that poultry workers must still follow strict biosecurity measures and that a ban on poultry gatherings remains in place.

New tough measures in France

The French government told about 2,000 farms in the southwestern part of the country that they must stop foie gras production for 6 weeks and destroy all the birds to halt the spread of H5N8, the The Times of London reported today, noting that about 3.2 million ducks and geese will be killed because they are infected or as a preventive step.

Called the "sanitary vacuum" plan, farmers must also disinfect their buildings and leave them empty until the end of May.

Similar outbreaks in the same region last year led to a 2-week production hiatus at 4,000 farms and prompted a 60% drop in revenue. Producers warn that this year's losses will be even greater.

New outbreaks in Europe

Though the pace of new outbreaks has slowed considerably, countries continue to report more outbreaks, according to other OIE reports. France reported three new low-pathogenic H5N3 outbreaks from two departments in the already-affected southwest. The virus was detected in late March on tests done in advance of the lifting of movement or surveillance zones.

Also, Romania reported two more highly pathogenic H5N8 detections in wild birds. Both involved waterfowl found dead on Apr 12 in Bucharest, the country's capital.

See also:

Apr 18 Reuters story

Apr 18 OIE update on H5N6 in Japan

Apr 18 OIE report on H5N6 in Japanese wild birds

Apr 10 DEFRA statement

Apr 18 Times story

Apr 14 OIE report on low-path H5N3 in France

Apr 18 OIE report on H5N8 in Romania

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