AI poultry rules to be softened

The government has announced that mandatory housing for poultry in ‘Higher Risk Areas of England’ will be lifted as of Thursday, 13 April. 

Keepers and producers were first required to keep their birds inside, or completely enclosed in netting, towards the latter part of 2016 to prevent the spread of avian influenza (AI). While birds will be allowed to roam again, producers in England must still comply with strict biosecurity measures and a ban on poultry gatherings will remain in force.

The decision to allow birds outside was made based on scientific evidence and veterinary advice, which concluded that the level of risk to poultry in higher-risk areas was reduced to the same levels as the rest of the country. This is attributed to the changes in the wild bird population as the majority of over-wintering migratory birds have now left the UK. Wild waterfowl are now at their lowest levels and they are entering the breeding season, when they become less likely to move long distances to forage for food.

The H5N8 strain of AI does remain strong, however, and other countries on the Continent continue to experience outbreaks in wild birds. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) is stepping up surveillance of wild birds across the UK to inform risk assessments.

Poultry-keepers must continue to make efforts to reduce the risk to their birds, including minimising movement in and out of bird enclosures, cleaning footwear, keeping areas where birds live clean and tidy and feeding birds indoors.

“We continually review our disease control measures in light of new scientific evidence and veterinary advice,” said chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens. “Based on the latest evidence on reduced numbers of migratory and resident aquatic wild birds, we believe that kept birds in the areas we previously designated as higher-risk are now at the same level of risk as the rest of England and may now be let outside.

“However, all keepers must still observe strict disease prevention measures to reduce the risk of contamination from the environment, where the virus can survive for several weeks in bird droppings. This does not mean business as usual: the risk from avian flu has not gone away and a prevention zone remains in place, requiring keepers across England to take steps to prevent disease spreading. We continue to keep measures under review and keepers should check GOV.UK for regular updates.”

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