Government to review avian influenza prevention methods

The UK “still faces the threat of epidemic of bird flu” despite poultry keepers no longer being required to keep birds indoors, according to Nigel Gibbens, chief veterinary officer for the officer. 

Following the spread of bird flu from Europe to UK shores during the latter part of last year, the government implemented guidelines enforcing poultry to be kept indoors or, where this isn’t possible, away from wild birds. The housing requirements were lifted at the beginning of this month.

“We’re reviewing our approach from the end of February and we’re going to require continued high disease control measures across the whole country but only require housing in those parts that are at very high risk,” said Gibbens.

This comes as 55,000 birds are to be culled following a confirmed case of H5N8 near Redgrave in Suffolk. The premises will then be cleansed and disinfected, further reducing the risk to other birds. A 3km Protection Zone and a 10km Surveillance Zone are already in place following the previous case in the area.

Despite the requirement to keep birds indoors no longer in place, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland said that many free range producers have decided to keep their birds indoors. As a result, they have used labels on egg packaging explaining the decision.

“Across the UK, the threat from avian influenza to our poultry flocks remains a concern,” said NFU Scotland’s president Andrew McCornick. “Since 6 December, Scottish government required all farmers to keep their birds inside to stop the spread of the disease. This blanket ban has now been removed and many free range poultry producers have been given the option to allow birds back outside providing additional biosecurity measure are adhered to.

“However, many egg producers remain justifiably nervous about releasing birds at this time and some professional veterinary experts have advised against free range producers opening up their sheds. That is why, for those producers producing Red Lion-assured free range eggs, the British Egg Industry Council is advising all packers regardless of whether the birds are inside or outside to use stickers on all packs of Red Lion-assured free range eggs indicating that the birds are being kept in barns but will resume their free range status once the risk from avian influenza has passed.”

He added that this decision echoes that of the union’s poultry working group. “We understand that supermarkets are aware of this approach and will support the industry in paying the additional associated costs of free range egg production, even where free range birds continue to be housed and packs stickered,” explained McCornick.

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