No vaccination of EU poultry against bird flu this year

The Agriculture Ministers of the 27 EU countries have unanimously approved a strategy to enable vaccination of chickens against bird flu. Two trials are currently being conducted in France, and the Netherlands has also announced a trial before the end of this year.

In recent years, most European countries, as well as elsewhere in the world, have been affected by highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) epizooties, with the current epizootic in Europe being the most severe in recent history. Part of the strategy is a 'regional approach' in which vaccination can be prescribed in animal-dense geieden, but not in the entire EU.

As part of its veterinary priorities, the French presidency of LNV ministers had launched a strategic debate, based on a questionnaire. A first summary of the results was presented at the end of March to the Working Group on Animal and Veterinary Issues (Chief Veterinary Officers), after which the ministers have now agreed.

Most ministers emphasize that they do not yet permanently agree to anything, because they first want to know how the exporting countries react to it. In the World Trade Organization WTO, it is very difficult to vaccinate animals or add chemicals to animal feed. The fear for human health plays a major role in this. 

Many ministers also emphasized that support for the vaccination must be sought not only among trading partners but also among their own poultry farmers. An important argument is called 'animal suffering' because in the event of infections, the entire livestock on the affected farm must be culled.

In the past, vaccinations against animal diseases have led to restrictions on European exports. That is why it has to be checked first. In addition, EFSA's own food safety service must issue an opinion on this.

About the situation in the Netherlands, LNV minister Henk Staghouwer reported to the House of Representatives last week that the current bird flu outbreak is much larger than the outbreaks that the Netherlands has experienced over the past twenty years. At the time, the Netherlands had to deal with 'seasonal' outbreaks at some companies, and sometimes for several years without outbreaks. 

However, HPAI has not been absent from the Netherlands since the autumn of 2020. In addition, there have been outbreaks in poultry-dense areas, as a result of which many poultry farms were also culled as a preventive measure. The financial settlement of these clearances is still ongoing.

A trial will be started this year in the Netherlands to test the effectiveness of a number of vaccines. Minister Staghouwer said expect the first results to be known in the fourth quarter. Partly on the basis of the results of various studies, such as those currently being conducted in Hungary and France, the Netherlands can develop a strategy for using vaccination as an additional preventive measure.