News Re­port

New­cas­tle Dis­ease

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New­cas­tle dis­ease (ND) is now “likely” to ap­pear in the UK, ac­cord­ing to the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment, Food and Ru­ral Af­fairs (DE­FRA), which in­creased the level of risk from low to medium back in July. But for poul­try keep­ers in Bel­gium it is a re­al­ity. There have been 20 out­breaks of the dis­ease there since April — 17 among hobby keep­ers and three af­fect­ing com­mer­cial farm­ers. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of birds have been culled — around 101,000 at the three big busi­nesses.

The res­pi­ra­tory virus was last seen in the UK in 2006, lead­ing to the deaths of 13,396 game birds. Now a “par­tic­u­larly vir­u­lent” strain is present in main­land Europe, with cases ap­pear­ing in Hol­land, Lux­em­bourg and Bel­gium this year and France in De­cem­ber 2017.

The UK’s chief vet Chris­tine Mid­dle­miss has called for cau­tion, say­ing: “I urge all poul­try keep­ers — whether of com­mer­cial, small­holder flocks or spe­cial­ist breeds or pet chick­ens — to re­main vig­i­lant to the clin­i­cal signs of the dis­ease and put in place strong biose­cu­rity mea­sures, to en­sure the wel­fare of their birds.”

Reg­u­la­tions brought in in Bel­gium mean that all poul­try shows have been can­celled and, al­though rules are in place to al­low com­mer­cial keep­ers to buy and sell stock, birds be­long­ing to hobby keep­ers may not be moved.

Fur­ther out­breaks took place in May in Meix-de­vant-Vir­ton, West Lux­em­bourg, on the bor­der with Bel­gium and, in March, in a back­yard flock in Arn­hem, Hol­land. Both cases are be­lieved to be con­nected to the Bel­gian sit­u­a­tion and were iso­lated quickly. There are no re­stric­tions on chicken keep­ers in ei­ther coun­try at present.

Like Bel­gium, but un­like the UK, all com­mer­cial poul­try in Hol­land must be vac­ci­nated against ND and now Dutch hobby keep­ers are be­ing ad­vised to vac­ci­nate their birds. Raole Koole of the Dutch Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Na­ture and Food Qual­ity said that they were vig­i­lant, but did not ex­pect an­other out­break. And Theo Sch­mitz of the Union of Poul­try So­ci­eties of the Grand Duchy of Lux­em­bourg said that his mem­bers were re­ceiv­ing good in­for­ma­tion from their au­thor­i­ties and were not too con­cerned.

How­ever, pro­tec­tion and sur­veil­lance zones are in place across Bel­gium, mean­ing life is quite dif­fi­cult for poul­try keep­ers. The most re­cent out­break was in a hobby flock in Momignies, Hain­aut, on 31 July.

Els De Saveur runs The Ark, a farm an­i­mal sanc­tu­ary in Po­lare, East Flan­ders — around 10km from an out­break that oc­curred at a poul­try breed­ers in Haal­tert on 4 July.

The Ark or­gan­ises the re­hom­ing of hun­dreds of bat­tery chick­ens each year, but Els has not been able to take in any birds since the re­stric­tions started in July and she says that it is heart­break­ing know­ing birds are go­ing to slaugh­ter that she could be sav­ing.

She said: “We take in chick­ens when they are writ­ten off by egg busi­nesses. They are just a year old and they re­cu­per­ate here be­fore be­ing adopted. How­ever, as a sanc­tu­ary we are classed as hobby keep­ers, so while the big com­pa­nies can con­tinue their busi­nesses there are still re­stric­tions on us, mean­ing that we can­not res­cue or re­home any poul­try. We are get­ting emails ev­ery day from peo­ple want­ing to take on chick­ens, but we have to tell them no.

“Luck­ily the re­stric­tions came in just as we were about to go on hol­i­day, so we had no new hens, but we nor­mally take them in in batches of 260. This means that we do not have many hens here and we have not had to change our biose­cu­rity or rou­tines too much.

“We also res­cue other farm­yard birds, such as geese and ducks, and we are un­able to re­spond to calls to help them ei­ther cur­rently.”

Els added that the worst part is that there is no end in sight. “We are not get­ting any in­for­ma­tion from our govern­ment about when the re­stric­tions will be lifted.”

Dorine Van Geert, a spokesper­son for the Bel­gian govern­ment, con­firmed that the emer­gency mea­sures ban­ning the sale and move­ment of poul­try by back­yard keep­ers in­tro­duced on 2 July were ex­tended in­def­i­nitely on 1 Au­gust.

The out­break in Haal­tert was at the premises of Poul­try Schouppe De Nul of Haal­tert, a small busi­ness sell­ing pure bred and hy­brid lay­ers to back­yard keep­ers. Its doors were closed for six weeks and more than 3,000 of its birds were culled, but the com­pany re­opened for busi­ness on 10 Au­gust.

“We have re­ceived a great deal of sup­port from our cus­tomers. Thanks to them, we have the courage to con­tinue,” said owner Rosette De Nul. “Emo­tion­ally it has been par­tic­u­larly tough. I hatched many of the chick­ens and that cre­ates a spe­cial bond. The whole is­sue re­mains a scar that I hope will heal in time, but at least it is good to hear them cluck­ing again.”

With no fur­ther cases for a month, the Bel­gian au­thor­i­ties be­lieve that the out­break may soon be at an end, but Bri­tish keep­ers need to re­main on their guard against New­cas­tle Dis­ease.

New­cas­tle Dis­ease was first iden­ti­fied in the Bri­tish city of New­cas­tle in 1927

Bel­gium has seen 20 out­breaks of New­cas­tle Dis­ease since April

Els De Saveur, who runs The Ark an­i­mal sanc­tu­ary in East Flan­ders, says that poul­try can­not cur­rently be res­cued or re­homed

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