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Brussels, 16 February 2006

Questions and Answers: Measures in event of avian influenza in poultry in the EU

Why has the Commission put forward further measures for an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza, above and beyond the legislation already laid down?

The Avian Influenza Directive 92/40/EEC (and the new Directive 2005/94/EEC) gives the Commission full flexibility to take ad hoc measures in the case of an outbreak of avian influenza, as it is impossible to provide for every possible scenario in framework legislation. As the risk of the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus is now very high, the Commission has put forward the Decisions for additional measures to be taken by any Member State affected by H5N1 in either wild birds or poultry.

What measures are laid down in case of a suspected outbreak of avian influenza on a farm/ holding in the EU?

Directive 92/40/EEC lays down measures that must be taken in the case of a suspected outbreak of avian influenza in poultry or birds. These have been updated by the new Avian Influenza Directive 2005/94/EEC, which entered into force in February 2005 and must be implemented by all Member States before 31 July 2007. Under EU legislation, if there is a suspected outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry flocks, all poultry on the holding concerned must be kept indoors or confined in an isolated area where they will have no contact other poultry. No poultry may enter or leave the affected holding. People, animals, vehicles, poultry products, animal feed or anything else liable to transmit the avian influenza virus cannot move to or from the holding without the authorization of the competent national authority. Bio-security measures, such as the disinfection of entrances and exists of poultry houses and the holding itself, must be applied. National authorities must carry out an epidemiological inquiry on the possible source of the disease. If the Member State authorities consider it necessary, they may also immediately cull and destroy all the poultry in the holding, pending confirmation of the disease.

What measures must be carried out on a holding in the event of a confirmed outbreak of highly pathogenic avian flu?

In accordance with Directive 92/40/EEC, if a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza (such as H5N1) is confirmed on a holding, all the poultry must be culled and destroyed immediately. All eggs and poultry products must also be destroyed. The meat from poultry from the holding, which were slaughtered within the period presumed to cover the incubation of the disease, shall also be traced and destroyed, as should hatching and table eggs laid in the incubation period. Once these measures are carried out, the affected holding and any vehicles used for transportation to or from the holding must be thoroughly cleansed and disinfected. No poultry may be reintroduced onto the holding for at least 21 days after the cleansing and disinfection operation is complete.

Based on the results of the epidemiological investigation, the Member States may also immediately apply the measures above in other holdings which are located in the vicinity of the holding where the disease has been confirmed or other holdings in which the disease may have spread, such as those that have received birds from the infected holding prior to the detection of the virus.

Under EU legislation, what are the measures that must be applied in the area around the infected holding?

Under Directive 92/40/EEC (and the new Avian Influenza Directive) the following measures must be applied once there is an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in an area:

  • The establishment of a protection zone with a radius of 3km around the site of infection.
  • The establishment of a surveillance zone with a minimum radius of 10km around the protection zone.

Within these zones, rigorous eradication and control measures must be applied (see below).

What are the additional measures foreseen in the draft Decision endorsed by the Standing Committee?

On 16 February 2006, the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH) backed a draft Commission decision providing the additional precaution of defining 2 risk areas around protection and surveillance zones.

  • Risk Area “A” must include, but is not limited to, the protection and surveillance zones. It is the area surrounding and/or closest to the surveillance zone.
  • Risk Area “B” is to be the area next to or surrounding Area “A”, that will act as a buffer between the Area “A” and the disease free part of the country.

The size of the zones would be determined on a case by case basis. For example: The Protection zone is an area of 3km radius, the Surveillance zone the 10km radius area around this, Area “A” could be the department/county in which these zones are located and Area “B” the surrounding counties or even the province/region.

What measures must be applied in risk areas “A” and “B”?

For risk areas “A” and “B”, the following measures must be applied:

  • As a general rule, no live poultry, live birds, wild feathered game, products or hatching eggs may be moved outside these areas, or transported within or between the two areas. Certain derogations may be authorised in accordance with strict controls.
  • Appropriate biosecurity measures must be taken and the products moved from these defined areas must be handled, treated, stored and transported in a way that does not compromise other products.

What measures must be applied in the surveillance zone?

Within the surveillance zone similar restrictions to those in the protection zone must be applied (see below). All holdings with poultry should be identified, and on-farm biosecurity measures must be carried out. The movement of poultry and hatching eggs must be strictly controlled within the zone. Fairs, markets, shows or any other gathering of poultry is prohibited.

What measures must be applied in the protection zone?

In the protection zone, the following measures must be applied when there is an outbreak:

  • All poultry holdings have to be identified, visited and examined by national authorities.
  • All poultry must be kept indoors or confined to isolated shelters
  • The entrances and exits of holdings must be disinfected regularly
  • The transport of poultry is banned within or through the protection zone, except for transit by major highways or railways.
  • The movement of people or vehicles in contact with poultry, poultry carcasses and eggs is subject to restrictions and/or controls
  • Fairs markets, shows or gathering of poultry are be prohibited.
  • No meat or eggs from poultry originating from the protection zone can be used, except those provided for through derogations (see below)

Are there any derogations are there from these restrictions?

Certain derogations are provided from the measures outlined above, subject to very controlled and limited circumstances. For example, meat and eggs which are to be heat-treated may be allowed to be moved from holdings in the surveillance zone, under strict circumstances. Under special conditions, the competent authority may also authorize the transport of poultry to a designated slaughterhouse, day-old chicks or ready to lay pullets to an identified holding, and hatching eggs to a designated hatchery, within or outside the risk areas. When carrying out activities in line with any of the derogations, all appropriate biosecurity measures must be taken to avoid the spread of avian influenza.

How long do the restrictions apply for protection and surveillance zones?

In the protection zone, the measures must be applied for at least 21 days after culling and destruction of the birds and the preliminary cleansing and disinfection of the holding(s) on which the outbreak occurred. After this time, the protection zone will become part of the wider surveillance zone. The measures must be applied in the surveillance zone for a minimum 30 days following the disinfection and cleansing operation. In practice, the restrictions for both zones must remain in place for as long as is necessary to ensure complete eradication of the virus.

Who is responsible for applying these measures?

The competent national authorities must ensure that all the measures laid down in EU legislation are implemented in the case of an outbreak of avian influenza, and Member States have to report back to the Commission on the measures that they have applied.

Can Member States or the EU impose more stringent measures in the event of an outbreak?

Yes. Member State authorities, or the Commission with the agreement of Member States in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH), can decide to go beyond the EU measures laid down for an outbreak of avian influenza in poultry. For example, it could be decided that a national ban on the transport of poultry, or culling of birds in holdings other than just the infected holdings, would allow a more rapid and effective eradication of the disease. Member States must keep the Commission informed of all measures they intend to take.

Do pet birds have to be culled if they are within the area of infection?

Pet birds on a holding with a confirmed outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza must be culled. Pet birds in the protection and surveillance zones do not necessarily need to be killed. However, the Member State in question may decide to do so if it is deemed that this would facilitate more effective and rapid eradication of the disease and the protection of public health.

Is there compensation for poultry owners who have to cull their flocks?

Yes. Farmers and poultry owners who have to cull their poultry and birds as part of avian influenza eradication measures are entitled to compensation for the loss in livestock and the costs of the cleaning and disinfection requirements. The Commission provides 50% co-funding for this compensation.

Why are poultry not vaccinated as a precaution against highly pathogenic avian influenza?

Vaccinating individual birds reduces clinical signs of disease and mortality, but it does not necessarily stop birds from being infectious or prevent the further spread of the disease. Preventive vaccination may be used in a targeted way, for example among zoo animals or rare species of birds, to prevent them from needing to be culled. Moreover, a Member State may decide to vaccinate poultry if it believes the risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza to be particularly high (e.g. widespread incidences in wild birds in the territory). However, the use of preventive vaccination requires the adoption of particular surveillance and controls to prevent the possible persistence of disease in an endemic form in a poultry population. These surveillance and controls would not be possible in case of generalised vaccination of the billions of poultry that are kept for farming purposes in the EU.
In general, it is considered that the disadvantages of generalised vaccination of poultry would overcome its advantages.

Can poultry meat, eggs and poultry products from an affected Member State be marketed in the EU?

In the event of an outbreak of avian influenza in poultry in a Member State, poultry meat, eggs and products from the protection zone, surveillance zone and the risk areas will be blocked from the market, except for certain products which meet stringent conditions (e.g. heat treated meat). However, poultry meat, eggs and products from the other, non-affected parts of that Member State will still be allowed to be marketed, and would be considered safe for consumption. Consumers can be confident that the chicken and eggs on the supermarket shelves are safe to eat, because EU animal health and food safety rules mean that only meat and eggs from healthy animals can enter the food chain. If there is an outbreak of avian flu in poultry in the EU, all diseased animals would be destroyed and no products considered to pose any risk to consumers would be allowed to be marketed.

What will an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry in a Member State mean for EU trade in poultry and poultry products?

Stringent eradication and control measures put are laid down for when there is an outbreak or suspected outbreak of avian influenza in the EU, including blocking off of areas in and around the site of infection and banning the dispatch of poultry and poultry products from these areas.

This is to help to prevent the spread of the virus into the disease-free parts of the affected Member State, and to provide reassurance to consumers and trade partners on the safety of products dispatched. International trading partners should therefore be able to follow World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) rules on regionalisation in the event of an outbreak of avian influenza in poultry in the EU, and apply precautionary restrictions only to the affected areas.

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