The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) granted Belgium disease-free status for highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry, or bird flu, this week.
Belgium had been struggling with outbreaks of bird flu, resulting in 24 countries closing their markets to Belgian poultry, a significant blow to the industry.
“On 1 November 2020, a ‘period of increased risk’ was declared in Belgium after the highly pathogenic bird flu virus was detected in wild birds in the Netherlands,” explained the Flemish infocentre for agriculture and horticulture (VILT).
“As a result, additional biosecurity measures were taken to limit the spread of the virus, including the obligation to keep animals indoors. Nevertheless, in mid-November, the virus was also detected in wild birds in Belgium, followed by several outbreaks in poultry and other domestic birds.”
Similar outbreaks occurred in France, and some of the cases in Belgium occurred at smallholder farms, including one in July in Moerzeke, near Hamme in East Flanders.
The last outbreak in a professional poultry farmer, however, was over three months ago, according to VILT.
Since then, no more outbreaks have been reported in the commercial circuit, which prompted Belgium to issue a self-declaration of being bird flu free dating from 29 April.
That declaration has now been validated by the OIE and published on its website.
Other countries to recently issue self-declarations of being free from bird flu include Denmark, the Czech Republic and The Netherlands.
Elsewhere in Europe, however, cases of the virus are still being detected in wild birds.
“This shows that the virus is still actively circulating in these populations,” said Belgium’s Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC).
“That is why vigilance is still required in Belgium and why it is still important to comply with the general biosecurity measures.”
The federal and regional authorities are jointly monitoring the situation in order to detect any new incidents of the virus at an early stage.
“Poultry farms are actively sampled,” said the FASFC.
“Poultry farmers and veterinarians also keep a so-called ‘passive surveillance,’ in which they are vigilant for abnormal mortality or symptoms that could indicate contamination with the virus.”
Now that Belgium has been granted bird flu free status, poultry trade with other countries can begin again, according to FASFC.