Vienna, 3 July 2023 – FOUR PAWS, the global animal welfare organisation, said the outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) A(H5N1) that has caused the death of nine cats across Poland is “deeply worrying”.
HPAI was discovered in June in cats residing in three separate regions of Poland: Tri-City, Lublin, and Poznan, with Polish authorities now urging all cat owners to take precautions to help stop the spread of the disease.
Wendla Beyer, FOUR PAWS Policy Coordinator, said, “What we are seeing in Poland is deeply worrying. This virus needs to be taken seriously, especially as the source of these infections has yet to be identified and there are no policies in place to address the underlying problem that has caused HPAI to spiral out of control, namely factory farming.
“Following on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw the largest avian influenza outbreak worldwide, with devastating effects on animals, trade and the livelihoods of farmers. Infections in mammals spark fears of viral mutations that could become transmissible between humans, igniting a new pandemic. And now, as we have seen, house cats are dying from the virus."
“This is the looming pandemic if no action is taken to tackle the root cause of its unprecedented spread: industrial farming, which is driving the circulation and mutation of HPAI viruses. It's becoming obvious that biosecurity and vaccines are not enough to stop avian influenza; HPAI outbreaks are happening inside factory farms with the highest biosecurity too. Policy makers need to tackle the problem at its root.
With 75% of emerging human infectious diseases coming from animals, scientists and experts are highlighting the link between exploiting animals and increasing pandemic risks. Governments need to fully embrace the One Health approach, which seeks to optimise and balance the health of humans, animals and the environment. This is the only way to concretely tackle zoonotic diseases such as bird flu.”
Wendla Beyer, FOUR PAWS Policy Coordinator
Commonly known as Bird Flu, HPAI, reached unprecedented geographic spread across continents and record outbreaks, with 50 million poultry culled in the epidemiologic year 2021/2022 in Europe alone.
In wild birds, avian flu is causing alarming mortality rates, threatening to wipe out endangered species. The virus killed hundreds of thousands of wild birds, including 10% of the Humboldt penguins in Chile in 2023 and 50,000 Peruvian pelicans and boobies in 2022; it is decimating breeding colonies at the time of writing.
In 2022, European Food Safety Authority figures show rising infections among mammals, alongside 52,000 minks being killed in fur farms, and 8,117 sea lions on the Chilean coast, among other species. Despite the magnitude of outbreaks, the increased risk of mutations transmissible among humans, the loss of animal lives and economic repercussions, there are no strategies in place to address the root causes.
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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org