News 2 commentsupdate:Mar 9, 2016

Are wild birds being made scapegoats for AI outbreaks?

As the search for the source of bird flu in the Netherlands continues, there is a danger that wild birds will become scapegoats, welfare organisation Compassion in World Farming claims.

The Netherlands is receiving more attention than the UK and Germany, where the same H5N8 strain has been found, because it has had the highest number of cases so far with four.

Despite every case so far being found in indoor farms, some are arguing vociferously for all free range flocks to be brought indoors and claiming wild birds are responsible for giving farm birds the disease.

The risk of simply blaming wild birds is two-fold, the welfare organisation states. Firstly, it could divert attention and resources away from other issues, such as the fact that intensive indoor farms are ideal incubators for avian influenza, as the virus can jump between birds that are packed into sheds in such tight proximity.

Secondly, there is a danger that some may call for a cull of wild birds, which would have serious consequences not only for those birds but also for the ecosystems they are part of – not to mention the fact that the significant problem of intensive farms will not have been addressed.

A statement made by the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds, which is made up of organisations including Bird Life International, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Royal Veterinary College, appears to side with the above claims, by saying: "Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks are most frequently associated with intensive domestic poultry production and associated trade and marketing systems."

It urges organisations and authorities to: "Ensure there is no consideration of killing of wild birds or negatively affecting wetland habitats as disease control measures; and recognise that focussing attention on wild birds, to the exclusion of other potential viral vectors, can misdirect critical resources away from effective disease control and result in continued spread among poultry populations and economic losses to farmers and national income, as well as negative conservation outcomes and loss of biodiversity."

The International Poultry Council (IPC) has warned that any restriction on movement of breeding stock could affect domestic food production for "months or even years". But not addressing the problem of intensive farms could have a far worse effect on our ability to produce food sustainably, Compassion in World Farming claims.

World Poultry


  • Henry Niman

    The H5 in H5N8 in Netherlands, Germany, and England is Fujian clade 2.3.4 which as the same as the H5 in H5N2 in Fraser Valley. All are linked to wild birds. Fraser Valley has 9 outbreaks and counting

  • G G Arzey


    Counting the outbreaks and linking it to wild birds is as helpful as pointing out that mosquitoes are responsible for Malaria transmission.

    It should be noted that the epidemiological investigations are still pending and in at least one farm the source is most likely to be the receival of stock from the breeder farm but nevertheless the issue is not the presence and circulation of AI viruses in wild waterfowl but rather the occurrence of the outbreaks predominantly in indoor poultry where biosecurity should provide a panacea.

    Let's blame ineffective biosecurity first before blaming nature's inhabitants. Let's focus on governments that are quick to order free range flocks indoor (regardless of the indoor sector being the main culprit) rather than concentrating on effective biosecurity auditing year around.

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