Exports threatened after bird flu found in Danish poultry

The aggressive bird flu H5N8 that was reported in wild ducks last week has now been found on a Danish poultry farm.

Exports threatened after bird flu found in Danish poultry
Dead ducks were taken away from the infected farm by emergency workers on Monday. Photo: Bax Lindhardt/Scanpix
The Danish Food and Veterinary Service (Fødevarestyrelsen) said on Monday that tests from a duck farm in northern Zealand confirmed the presence of the virus. Roughly a third of the farm’s ducks have died as a result. 
The case marks the first time that the bird flu has been confirmed amongst domestic poultry since it was discovered in wild ducks earlier this month.  
The national poultry association, Det Dansk Fjerkræråd, said that the discovery of H5N8 threatens to put a serious damper on exports. 
“It can be a major blow to the industry. I'm kind of in shock. Just how big the loss will be, I cannot yet say,” association spokesman Jørgen Nyberg Larsen told Ritzau. 
According to Larsen, a number of countries outside of the EU institute an automatic stop to imports of Danish poultry as soon as there is a confirmed case of bird flu.
“It’s typically some of the countries we do business with in the Middle East and Far East that will close the borders. Nearly 100 percent of the offal, feet and shell eggs we export are sold there,” he said. 
Larsen said the industry would be “lucky” if exports only shut down for one month but he said it could last up to six months. 
The Danish Food and Veterinary Service said that the bird flu is normally not spread to humans but it has ordered poultry farmers to keep all hens indoors until the new year. 
The agency believes that the bird flu entered Denmark via Germany. There have also been confirmed reports of H5N8 in Austria, Switzerland, Hungary and Poland. 

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Will Denmark see the return of mink farms in 2022?

After all mink breeders were last year forced by the government to close down their farms, discussions are beginning on whether the industry could return in 2022.

Will Denmark see the return of mink farms in 2022?
A mink at a North Jutland fur farm in August 2020. Photo: Henning Bagger/BAG/Ritzau Scanpix

All fur farm minks in Denmark were culled late last year and the practice banned until 2022 after an outbreak of Covid-19 in the animals at several farms led to concerns over mutations of the virus.

The mink industry was subsequently given a gigantic compensation package worth up to 18.8 billion kroner.

Parliament’s environment and food committee will meet on Tuesday to discuss whether to extend the current ban or allow the industry to return. Political negotiations were scheduled to take place following an orientation published the same day by the State Serum Institute (SSI), Denmark’s national infectious disease agency.

In a statement released on Tuesday morning, SSI maintained an earlier risk assessment that mink breeding constitutes an health risk of “unknown proportions” for humans in Denmark.

READ ALSO: Danish PM Frederiksen to be questioned over Covid-19 mink culls

The assessment, made by the agency in June, remains the position held by SSI, the infectious disease agency said.

“It is the general assessment of the State Serum Institute that breeding of mink in Denmark after 2021 could constitute a health risk for humans of unknown proportions,” the June assessment stated.

Three key risk factors were identified by SSI in June:

  • Breakthrough Covid-19 infections in vaccinated mink breeders and skinners
  • The potential of mink farms to act as an “infection reservoir” where the virus can continue to survive
  • Emergence of new Covid-19 mutations in the animals and their spread to humans

The SSI assessment was solely concern with potential risk to humans, and did not have the task of considering safety measures for reopening farms.

Prior to the release of SSI’s statement on Tuesday, the interest organisation for the mink fur breeding industry, Danske Mink, criticised the appraisal made by the agency in June.

The formulation of the assessment was imprecise and “quite erroneous”, Danske Mink chairperson Louise Simonsen said.

The earlier orientation did not give an accurate representation “both with the number of animals and with the vaccination situation,” Simonsen argued.

Around 1,000 mink farms operated in Denmark at the time the industry was shut down.

Simonsen, in comments prior to Tuesday’s SSI statement, said she was uncertain how many were likely to restart their shuttered breeding grounds.

“We’ve had several messages from breeders who want to start up. But that number won’t stabilise until we know what we’re looking forward to,” she said.

The Conservative Party said through its spokesperson Per Larsen that SSI should have conducted a “risk assessment using groups of, for example, 50,000 or 100,000 minks” to see how “vaccinated mink, vaccinated staff and weekly testing could work”.

“Saying there’s a risk of unknown proportions is of no use whatsoever. It could mean nothing or many things,”” Larsen said.