2655 views 5 commentsupdate:May 15, 2017

‘Stamping out’ under fire

Within the poultry industry there is consensus on two main routes to mitigate the damage of an Avian Influenza outbreak. Vaccination is one, mainly adopted by countries where the disease is endemic and who don’t have a large export of poultry products.

The second is stamping out of the virus by a combination of culling the infected flock and preventative destruction of contact flocks or farms within a close range. Both options have their pro’s and cons. Vaccines will not protect 100% and carry the risk that the virus can stay under the radar. Mass culling, especially of non-diseased flocks, goes against common sense. That said, this is generally accepted in the poultry production chain to stay on top of an infection. The incident of French farmers protesting and hindering a preventative culling campaign in the hard hit Pyrénées-Atlantique duck production region, is an exception.

However, it is not only people involved in poultry production which the industry and legislators have to reckon with in dealing with avian influenza. With the virus popping up in more and more countries, consumers are also becoming more aware of standard operating procedures, i.e. preventative culling. In Germany the public prosecutor started a criminal investigation into the culling of day-old chicks, that couldn’t be delivered to the designated farm due to AI. In the Netherlands, animal rights activists started a public awareness campaign with the title: ‘Stop preventative culling’. Society’s acceptance of ‘stamping out’ is slowly crumbling, increasing the pressure on the industry to come up with an alternative plan to stop AI. Who wants to take the first step?

5 comments

  • KD Davis

    The one "positive" thing that can be said for culling, cruel as it is, is that a life of hopeless misery is shorter for the victims, for the birds themselves.

  • Lorraine Mills

    Stamping out is overwhelmingly supported by science as a cost effective method of controlling disease, however countries and governments do need to be prepared and have appropriate resources available to effect a successful campaign during a disease outbreak. Specific rules and procedures need to be written in contingency plans and simulation exercises carried out to ensure veterinary authorities are prepared when the worst happens. It is sensationalist to suggest that 'Society’s acceptance of ‘stamping out’ is slowly crumbling' on the basis of 2 examples. Obviously governments need the support of the public to control animal disease, whatever method is chosen but the public should be aware of the risks and the facts surrounding the options. Some diseases can't be controlled with vaccination (e.g. ASF) and for some vector borne diseases (e.g. Bluetongue) stamping out is not effective, but for Avian Influenza, it has a proven track record of shortening the time taken to control the disease which means society as a whole incurs a lower cost. @KD Davis: I agree, any culling must obviously be carried out humanely and this goes back to the point about preparedness: any action plans must address animal welfare issues.

  • Dr. Previn Punnoose

    In endemic areas, where there is large scale movement of migratory birds, bird flu is very difficult to control. Even after the period of migration, every year the local poultry is under the threat of bird flu. It is practically impossible to cull the flock round the year in these highly endemic areas. This stands rue for developing countries where majority of the poultry is produced by large number of local farmers - i.e "mass production" is replaced by "production by masses". For these people, the remuneration is not always substantial. I think in these highly endemic areas, we should think of alternative measures like vaccination.

  • G G Arzey

    When culling involves destruction of unaffected hobby flocks and solitary pet birds that in some cases have been in households for many years, there is no 'positive thing' that can be said. It is just regulatory power gone astray and an expression of the deep aversion of governments to any degree of risk regardless of justifications and the human suffering it inflicts. I have witnessed the killing of healthy pet birds like budgerigars and cockatoos just because a slight suspicion of a remote indirect contact between them and infected flocks has risen or because they were unfortunately in the control zone, without the slightest possibility of contact with other birds, I should add.

    Whether society acceptance of stamping-out is slowly crumbling is perhaps unclear at this stage although a few of my colleagues that previously accepted mass culling unreservedly are now expressing some reservations.

    Crumbling of society support for mass stamping-out as a prevention tool now, or in the future, shouldn’t surprise us considering the ‘scorch earth’ policy that is so often unnecessarily employed. Ultimately, eradication efforts need not only to address animal welfare issues but do require more common sense and compassion to animals and their owners.

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