Poultry industry on ‘devastating’ bird flu alert

By Matt Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

A bird flu alert has been issued to the UK poultry industry. after its rapid spread on the continent
A bird flu alert has been issued to the UK poultry industry. after its rapid spread on the continent

Related tags Influenza Bird

Poultry producers have been ordered to keep their birds indoors for 30 days, in a bid to protect the industry from a “devastating” outbreak of avian flu.

The order – issued by the chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens – followed the rapid progress of the H5N8 avian (bird) flu virus throughout the continent, spread by migrating wild birds.

While the disease has yet to be detected in the UK this year, it has been identified in eight European countries – including northern France – since the end of October.

All chickens, turkeys and ducks – kept by large-scale producers and domestic owners – must be kept inside, said Gibbens. “The biggest risk is for the largest flocks,”​ Gibbens told BBC Radio 4’s Today​ programme.

“But all bird keepers should use sensible precautions to keep their birds separate from wild birds. That means separate feeding arrangements.”

All birds must be slaughtered

Once avian flu is detected in a flock – whatever its size – all the birds must be slaughtered, insisted the Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). “Disease control measures require us to kill all the birds in the flock,”​ Gibbens said.

Housed birds, as well as outside flocks, were at risk of infection, said the chief vet. Farmers were advised to look for signs of avian flu infection, and to take disinfectant measures.

“Even when birds are housed, a risk of infection remains, so this must be coupled with good biosecurity,” ​Gibbens said. “For example, disinfecting clothing and equipment, reducing poultry movement and minimising contact between poultry and wild birds.

“While no cases of H5N8 avian flu have been found in the UK, and Public Health England advises the public health threat is low, we are closely monitoring the situation across Europe and have scaled up surveillance in response to the heightened risk.”

Devastating for farmers

The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) praised the decision to introduce a 30-day prevention zone. BFREPA chief executive Robert Gooch claimed an outbreak of avian flu in the UK would be devastating for farmers.

“It would be devastating for a British producer to have to go through the heartbreak of seeing their entire flock wiped out by this virus as we have already seen in continental Europe.

“Housing birds presents significant challenges to free-range egg producers, but they understand that it is important to reduce the risk of ​[avian flu] spreading.”

The British threat lies where migratory birds head to the UK to leave the cold continental weather, potentially carrying with them the H5N8 virus strain, Gooch added.

Meanwhile, the Scottish government also declared a 30-day prevention zone, in response to the avian flu threat.

Bird flu threat – at a glance

  • Avian flu H5N8 found in eight European countries since the end of October
  • Migratory birds could bring virus to the UK
  • DEFRA issued 30-day prevention zone in response

Related topics Food Safety Meat, poultry & seafood

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