H5N1 may halt European movement to free-range poultry-raising

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2006:

LONDON–The Tower of London ravens will be indoor cage birds
until the H5N1 crisis subsides, says raven keeper Derrick Coyle.
Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the
British monarchy will fall–and keeping the ravens indoors sets an
example for poultry farmers.
Just as animal welfare concerns made “free range” a household
phrase and free range poultry growing began to take market share from
intensive confinement, H5N1 might kill the whole concept.
“In the protection zone,” to be established around all H5N1
outbreaks within the European Union, the European Commission decreed
on February 12, 2006, “poultry must be kept indoors.”
Agreed United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization senior
officer of animal production and health Juan Lubroth, “People need
to ensure that poultry are roofed-in to avoid contact with wild
birds, and should not mix chickens with other species, such as
ducks,” since H5N1 is most likely to mutate into forms that can
easily spread when it has the opportunity to move from one species to
another.

Austria, Bosnia, France, Germany, Greece, the
Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland have all
now ordered that poultry must be kept indoors. Not all are EC
members, but all have substantial poultry commerce with the EC.
British policy is that birds must be confined only if H5N1
actually reaches Britain. From 10% to 15% of the estimated 200
million birds on British farms are believed to be free-range.
The National Farmers’ Union contends that ordering an end to
free-range poultry growing would be “a massive over-reaction.”
The Austrian confinement order came after the Noah’s Ark
sanctuary in Graz illegally housed a swan from a region with known
H5N1 outbreaks with two chickens and three ducks. All six birds
died, prompting the health ministry to slaughter and test the
remains of 30 other birds kept at the sanctuary.
The Cairo Zoo, where hundreds of avian species mingle, was
closed for two weeks on February 18 after six of 82 recent bird
deaths were confirmed to have been due to H5N1.
Egyptian officials admitted on February 20 that H5N1 was
still spreading. “More than 90% of the cases so far have been found
in poultry kept in cages on roofs or balconies,” said health
minister Hatem Mustafa el-Gabaly, urging that children be kept off
of roofs–where poultry yards often double as playgrounds.
As well as ordering birds inside, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece,
Iraq, and Turkey have temporarily banned bird hunting.
France pledged to vaccinate 900,000 factory farmed birds
against H5N1, but there is growing doubt that vaccination can stop
it.
A joint report by 29 eminent virologists, published online
on February 7 in Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of
Sciences, warned that H5N1 has developed into four distinct gene
strains, and has probably been endemic in southern China since 1996,
when a single strain from Guangdong geese was isolated. The more
strains there are, the higher the probability of mutations
developing that can trigger a global pandemic.

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