More than five million farm birds in the Netherlands have been killed this year after bird flu outbreaks. “The bird flu situation is not sustainable,” Piet Adema, Dutch minister of Agriculture, said on Friday. “Not for the animals, not for the sector, and not for society.”
The costs of fighting bird flu outbreaks have exploded in the Netherlands. In 2020, 2.6 million euros was spent; in 2021, around five million euros, and so far this year, the ministry estimates that the costs are about 44 million euros.
When bird flu is detected at a farm, all animals are immediately gassed to death, and their bodies have to be destroyed.
For the first, the H5N1 strain of bird flu virus has spread all year round in the Netherlands. “This year is different because, for the first time, the outbreak among wild birds has also progressed very quickly and has continued throughout the year,” Thijs Kuiken, professor of virology at Erasmus MC and bird flu expert, told Dutch news media NOS.
Kuiken said there is no miracle cure to get rid of bird flu. Vaccination could be a short-term solution for farm birds, but not for wild birds. “Only if we completely adapt the poultry industry system can we eliminate it (bird flu) in the long run,” Kuiken said.
This year, bird flu was found in 37 countries in Europe, making it the largest European bird flu wave ever. The countries with the most infections are France, Germany and the Netherlands.
A week ago, the Dutch government ordered farmers to lock up all their chickens, ducks and other bird in sheds or cages to contain the spread of bird flu.
Most farmers in the Netherlands don’t allow their animals to get fresh air, but now free-range farmers are also not allowed to let their chickens, ducks or other birds outside.
Between November and May, France killed over 19 million birds after bird flu outbreaks. At the end of September, the French government raised the alert level on bird flu from ‘low’ to ‘moderate’.
“More and more, we are realizing, especially this year, that bird flu is also present in wildlife in France,” Jean-Michel Schaeffer, chairman of French bird farming industry group Anvol, said.