Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), aka “bird flu”, has been circulating across Europe and Asia at a pretty steady pace this winter with wild birds believed to be spreading the disease. France has culled over +700,000 birds in the past 45-days, mostly commercial ducks and concentrated in the southwest. Meanwhile, the outbreak in Asia is actually evolving into one of the worst in recent memory. More than +20 million chickens have been destroyed in South Korea and Japan since November. In India, it’s unclear exactly how many birds have been lost but at least 11 states have reported HPAI outbreaks and poultry prices have plummeted by about a third.
Outbreaks caused by avian influenza viruses, including both highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) occur in domestic poultry across the globe from time to time. Some forms of avian influenza have only mild symptoms in birds while others cause devastating illness resulting in death for most birds in a flock. Between December 2014 and June 2015, an estimated 50 million poultry birds in the U.S. were culled or killed directly by HPAI at operations mainly in the Upper Midwest after infections spread throughout the region. The outbreak caused the price of eggs to more than double while costing the poultry industry an estimated $3.3 billion.
Avian influenza is common in both Europe and Asia this time of year, but experts say new strains of the virus have evolved to become more lethal in wild birds, making countries on flight pathways particularly vulnerable. Some animal health experts are warning that the outbreaks this winter in the two regions closely resemble the global spread of avian influenza just before it spread to the U.S. back in 2014. The most recent avian influenza outbreak in the U.S. was reported in May 2020 in South Carolina.
Besides France, other European countries reporting outbreaks in commercial flocks include Germany, Poland, Ireland, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Lithuania. The UK and Belgium have recently confirmed cases in wild birds. As of January 10, 80 outbreaks in poultry had been confirmed with the Animal Disease Notification System of the European Commission (EC), around four times as many outbreaks during the same time frame last year. France accounts for 49 of the outbreaks and Germany 10. World health officials trace the current European wave of bird flu to an outbreak in Russia back in August.
In Asia, experts say the rapid and wide geographic spread of this outbreak makes it one of the worst waves to strike the region since the early 2000s. In South Korea, the disease has been spreading quickly with more than 65 outbreaks reported and at least 18.8 million birds lost since November. At the same time, at least 5.8 million chickens have been culled in Japan, a new record, and cases are still occurring. The previous record dates back to the 2005-2006 season when 5.7 million chickens were culled because of the disease. The country’s agriculture ministry says the risk of further spread will only diminish as the migration season for wild birds draws to an end in March, or even April in some cases.
Further to the west, India, the world’s sixth-largest poultry producer, has been battling two different strains of HPAI since December and is now suffering one of its worst outbreaks ever, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. India’s poultry industry just three months ago celebrated after declaring itself “bird flu free.” The recent outbreaks have led to consumers avoiding poultry and even some states banning poultry sales, restricting imports, and closing live markets, plunging poultry prices below the cost of production.
China, which lies between India and the other two most afflicted Asian nations of South Korea and Japan, has only reported a handful of avian influenza cases this winter, mostly in wild birds. Authorities in China say a compulsory vaccine for poultry is protecting the commercial flocks. China has also banned poultry imports from countries that have reported outbreaks.
Keep in mind, Asia and Europe combined account for about 50% of global chicken meat production, so there are concerns about the impact of these outbreaks on feed demand. We’ll continue to monitor the situation! (Sources: WattAgNet, Financial Times, Reuters, Hindustan Times)