Retailers urged to support British poultry amidst AI crisis

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is calling on British retailers to continue their support for producers that have had to keep poultry indoors due to the bird flu crisis. 

An avian influenza (AI) Prevention Zone has been enforced by the government in an effort to contain the spread of the disease. This requires producers to keep free-range poultry indoors until 28 February 2017.

In the weeks following on from the outbreak, the union’s president Meurig Raymond wrote to the chief executives of Britain’s top 10 retailers, applauding them for their efforts in supporting farmers. This has come in the form of engaging with industry leaders to find practical solutions to mitigate the impact of the housing order by informing consumers on company websites that producers have had to keep free-range poultry indoors to comply with the government order.

While concerns are growing that the housing order could be extended and threatening the birds’ free-range status, Raymond encouraged the retailers to back the industry.

“To date we have welcomed the support and understanding of the country’s major retailers with this situation,” said Raymond.

“However, these are unprecedented times and I remain very concerned about the future of the free-range poultry sector for both meat and egg products, should the housing order remain in place without a derogation that enables producers to market those eggs and meat to market as free-range. Downgrading these products would have a huge impact on margins in the sector.”

The NFU will continue to request an extension to the 12-week derogation at a European level, as well as working with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs to minimise the impact AI has on the commercial poultry sector.

It was confirmed yesterday that once the housing order is lifted, the government anticipates adopting a more targeted approach with mandatory biosecurity measures across the country, and continued housing measures or range netting in areas of higher risk. 

Chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, said: "Effective disease control will always be our priority. Based on the current situation, we believe mandatory biosecurity across England, combined with targeted housing or range netting in higher risk areas, is the best option to control disease, protect birds' welfare and ensure consumers can buy free-range products."

He said that the government has acted swiftly in limiting the spread of the H5N8 strain of the virus, including keeping birds indoors or seperated from wild birds, whilst the 12-week housing requirement has allowed keepers time to introduce stricter biosecurity measures. "Current rules on housing still remain in place until then, but we are setting out plans now to give people time to prepare," explained Gibbens. "We will keep the decision under review.

"H5N8 continues to circulate in wild birds and poultry keepers must remain vigilant. This proposal does not mean a return to business as usual and we will continue to do everything we can to reduce the risk from this disease."

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