Poland, which is the EU’s largest poultry producer, is currently fighting 262 outbreaks of avian influenza, the country’s highest number ever. Over six million birds are reportedly being culled in an effort to stop the spread of the disease, with the government facing a large compensation bill.

Poland’s chief veterinarian has blamed the severity of the outbreak on the excessive concentration of poultry farms and urged the government to change regulations to ensure greater spacing and stricter safety measures.

Poland slaughters over 1.3 billion chickens a year, producing almost 20% of the EU’s poultry meat. Its export industry is worth around 13 billion zloty (€2.8 billion) annually.

“This is the first time we are facing such a great crisis,” Andrzej Danielak, from the Polish Association of Poultry Breeders and Producers, told RMF FM. “Until now, 65 outbreaks was the largest [annual] number, and here we have already exceeded 200.”

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The current crisis is expected to increase the price of eggs and meat from poultry, which have already increased 65% since November. However, the situation is expected to now begin improving thanks to warmer weather.

“There is a downward trend because this seasonality has always been associated with ultraviolet and sun,” the country’s chief veterinary officer, Bogdan Konopka, told RMF.

Konopka has proposed legislative changes, already submitted to the agriculture ministry, to require greater distancing between poultry farms, as well as ensuring that each one has an area greater than 500 square metres.

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Konopka told RMF that other obligatory measures to decrease the spread of disease should include disinfection mats, fencing of farms, removing ponds from around facilities, as well as requirements for protective clothing and hand washing among staff.

The current bird flu outbreak has affected all poultry species, including broilers, laying hens, ducks, turkeys and geese. After beginning in Wolsztyn in November, it had spread to 15 of Poland’s 16 provinces by last week, with the largest numbers of cases in  Mazovia and Wielkopolska.

Just over six million birds will have to be culled this year to due to bird flu, and images have appeared on social media showing dead birds being removed using mechanical diggers. The government is likely to have to pay hundreds of millions of zloty in compensation, reports RFM.

Main image credit: Andrew Skowron/Otwarte Klatki

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