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Commercial poultry meat free from avian influenza

DATE 20 July 2006

Surveillance confirms commercial poultry meat free from avian influenza

Biosecurity New Zealand has completed the first survey of broiler farms throughout New Zealand and found no notifiable avian influenza virus in the farms tested.

“Based on the poultry meat industry’s major disease-free status and strict farm biosecurity, we were confident that we would not find notifiable avian influenza,” said Team Manager Surveillance and Incursion Response Ron Thornton. “This survey confirms that New Zealand broiler flocks are free of avian influenza virus, according to World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) specifications.”

The statistically-valid survey was designed in accordance with international guidelines using a sensitive serological screening test. Testing was carried out at Biosecurity New Zealand’s Investigation and Diagnostic Centre at Wallaceville.

“Working closely with the poultry industry, we have put in place an effective surveillance strategy to meet new OIE reporting requirements and demonstrate New Zealand’s freedom from highly pathogenic avian influenza,” Dr Thornton said.

New Zealand is part of a global network contributing to the knowledge on avian influenza and early warning and detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza. Biosecurity New Zealand commenced a comprehensive surveillance programme of all: layer flocks, broiler flocks, breeder chicken flocks, backyard chicken flocks, ratites, farmed ducks and geese, game birds and wild birds, in May this year.

Phase one of the ongoing programme conducted surveillance for avian influenza in layer and broiler flocks. Results from the layer surveillance programme are expected within the next few weeks, and planning is already underway to conduct surveillance in the remaining bird populations.

There are many strains of avian influenza viruses that are naturally present in many species of healthy wild birds, especially water fowl. Most strains of avian influenza virus do not cause disease in birds and are not of human health concern.

Strains of avian influenza are categorised as highly pathogenic or of low pathogenicity on the basis of the severity of clinical signs in chickens. Low pathogenicity avian influenza viruses may cause mild or no clinical disease in birds, but are harmless to humans. The highly pathogenic avian influenza virus causing worldwide concern at present is the H5N1 strain.

“New Zealand is well prepared to respond to an outbreak of avian influenza,” Dr Thornton said, “and has comprehensive response plans and policies in place for avian influenza.” In the unlikely event that highly pathogenic avian influenza virus was found in New Zealand, Biosecurity New Zealand would move immediately to eradicate the virus. If any strains of low pathogenicity avian influenza viruses are found, Biosecurity New Zealand will seek independent technical advice and assess appropriate response options.

ENDS

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