Zoo bird flu not the main risk for Dutch poultry farmers

17-08-2006 | |

The Netherlands, Europe’s second-biggest poultry industry, is less concerned about a suspected bird flu case in a Rotterdam zoo than about bird migration later this year, according to an industry official.

Jan Wolleswinkel, chairman of the Dutch Association of Poultry Farmers, said that even though the discovery of a highly infectious H5N1 avian influenza strain at the zoo would mark the first such case in the Netherlands, the danger to poultry farms was low.

“Contact between birds in a zoo and the farms is not to be expected,” he said.

From 1 September, however, Dutch farmers will again have to keep poultry inside to avoid contact with migrating wild birds, which could carry a bird flu virus. This poses a greater danger than the discovery at the zoo, Wolleswinkel said.

The Dutch suffered a devastating outbreak of an H7N7 avian flu strain in 2003 that led to the culling of about a third of the poultry flock, some 30 million birds.

The Dutch agriculture ministry said on Saturday that the young owls which died in a zoo in Rotterdam are suspected of having the H5N1 bird flu virus. The birds had not yet been vaccinated because they were born after a recent round of vaccinations had taken place.

A ministry spokeswoman said further tests were being conducted to confirm the suspicion. Authorities are currently testing other birds in the zoo, most of which were vaccinated.

The Netherlands found a low-pathogenic H7 bird flu strain at a farm earlier this month, prompting five countries to ban imports of Dutch poultry.

Wolleswinkel said he did not expect the Rotterdam zoo case to lead to further import bans. “There are quite different rules for zoos. It has been possible to vaccinate birds in zoos already for some time,” he said.