So, dead swans in Germany now. That’s getting a bit uncomfortably close. Suddenly the worries about a few Taiwanese bird-farmers look like they might have been justified. The Ranger even got an email inviting him to set up a ‘highly profitable Tamiflu shop’. Hmm. When spammers start cashing in that isn’t really a good sign. But still there is some perspective to be had on the matter. It’s not a panic yet. The disease which is spreading is a disease of birds, not humans. Whilst it could become a human disease, and indeed has in a few cases, in general we are not at risk from it. The talk now is of the need to maintain the poultry industry.
“There’s no need to panic. We have to advise the European public to stay calm. There’s no reason not to consume chicken.”
Markos Kyprianou, EU Health Commissioner sounding less than convinced himself Let’s hope it stays that way. For at the time of writing the virus has been confirmed in Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Austria, Italy, Germany and the European part of Russia. Other possible outbreaks are in Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Ukraine. Almost all the cases involve migratory wild swans. Basically, it look like the stuff is everywhere. Whilst we might hope fervently that it will not arrive in the UK, the chances of avoiding this seem to be pretty slim, even if DEFRA pluckily suggest (yesterday) that the risk remains ‘low’. However, we need to be realistic about this risk, and the risk of making too severe a response. Nobody wants a return to the madness of foot and mouth – and that disease was not known to affect humans at all. Already the Times has reported on proposed ‘no go areas’ which ‘recall the spectre of the foot-and-mouth outbreak’, prompting suggestions that the government is going to shut down the countryside once more – whereas in fact the proposed ‘buffer zones’ are for poultry movement only. Minister for animal health, Ben Bradshaw said (16.2.06) “The movements that would be affected would be those of poultry, not of human beings. Some of the rather alarmist headlines that have been around today about the countryside closing and footpaths closing are simply wrong.” Admittedly the Times article is not very inaccurate – but the comparison is unhelpful at this stage. Let’s hope that such ‘spectres’ remain only speculation. The Ranger is more concerned at present with the effect on wild birds. There have been various suggestions that migrating flocks should be culled to prevent spread of this disease. This is just wrong, because it won’t work. Birdlife International say as much – as you might expect – but also The World Health Organisation, Food and Agriculture Organisation and OIE (the World Organisation for Animal Health) agree that control of bird flu in wild birds by culling is not feasible, and should not be attempted (ref). So let’s not hear any more about that idea, please.