Avian influenza is not a new disease but the health and economic consequences this time around could be disastrous.
- hundreds, even thousands, of millions of chickens and other poultry face death through disease or culling;
- the loss of a major or sole source of income for poultry producers could represent a serious threat to economic survival; and
- the impact on food safety and security, national economies and international trade could be enormous.
In the immediate term, the death and killing of birds with or exposed to the disease represents an immediate loss of income for hundreds of thousands of poultry smallholders, so far mostly in a number of Asian countries, but also in Africa and Europe. At the same time, however, a number of people have already died from the disease and fear of a human pandemic is leading many consumers to reject poultry, hitting both small and large poultry producers heavily, and creating a knock-on effect for regional and international trade.
The effects vary by country and production system, but there is no part of the poultry sector that escapes the impact of an HPAI outbreak. Even countries that have not experienced disease outbreaks have still experienced shocks in their poultry markets. From the first phase of prevention and throughout the response, social and economic dimensions need to be taken into account when planning and executing comprehensive HPAI control policies and programmes in countries or regions. Policy decisions made at each stage of control have the potential to affect livelihoods from the poorest to the richest members of society and to have an impact on the long-term sustainability of the poultry sector.
Avian influenza, like other transboundary animal diseases (TADs), will have a wide-ranging impact on the livelihoods of smallholders, poultry farmers, regional and international trade, food safety, public health and international travel and tourism. The challenge is to maintain a balance between protecting birds (primarily poultry) from the disease thus helping keep people's health safe and reducing disruption of the livelihoods of the million of people involved in producing, processing and selling poultry.