France’s Ministry of Agriculture has confirmed 25 wild ducks in Marck, a commune of Calais, have been culled after the H5N8 virus that is sweeping across Europe was identified. The H5N8 strain has already been detected in 12 European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, as well as six nations across Asia and the Middle East.
The discovery is the first case of H5N8 in France, yet it has occurred less than 30 miles from the English port of Dover – a key route for trucks carrying goods from Europe to the UK.
A spokesman from the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said biosecurity measures were in place at Dover to ensure imports were safe. However, as the outbreak in France comes from wild ducks, the spokesman said it was “difficult” to prevent infected birds from flying into Britain.
Máire Burnett, agricultural policy manager at the British Poultry Council, told this site: “The spread of H5N8... is a serious concern for our members as this particular strain is killing large numbers of wild birds unlike the strain circulating in 2014-15, so the risk on incursion into the UK wild bird population is greater.”
She added: “An outbreak of HPAI in the UK would have a devastating impact on the industry and would disrupt international trade. Restrictions are still in place on exports of high-value genetic breeding stock by China since the Nafferton outbreak in November 2014.”
Burnett also stressed that an extreme spell of cold weather in northern and eastern Europe might encourage birds to migrate towards the UK.
Trade bans unlikely
A statement from the French Ministry of Agriculture said the migration of certain species of birds “certainly plays a major role in the spread of this virus”.
The species of wild duck affected is the Eurasian wigeon, a bird not considered poultry under World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) policy. As such, the OIE said the outbreak would be unlikely to spark a trade ban and would not affect France’s status on highly pathogenic avian influenza (HAPI) in commercial operations.
However, poultry farms in the zone where the AI case was identified are now subject to increased biosecurity measures and containment. An investigation to identify the cause of the virus has been carried out and French authorities have bolstered surveillance measures.
There have been no cases of the H5N8 strain transmitting to humans.