Poultry producers face rising threat of bird flu culls

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

Several cases of bird flu have been identified at commercial poultry premises
Several cases of bird flu have been identified at commercial poultry premises

Related tags: Supply chain, Meat & Seafood

British poultry producers have already been forced to cull birds after four instances of bird flu were identified at their commercial premises since the start of November.

A number of cases of the extremely infectious H5N1 strain of bird flu have been identified in wild birds and at commercial poultry sites across Britain. As a result, the chief veterinary officers from England, Scotland and Wales have declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across GB to mitigate the risk of the disease spreading further.

From 5pm on Wednesday 3 November 2021, it was a legal requirement for all bird keepers in Britain to follow strict biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks.

Keepers with more than 500 birds will need to restrict access for non-essential people on their sites. Workers will need to change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures and site vehicles will need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly to limit the risk of the disease spreading.

Thousands of birds were culled in November last year after bird flu was identified at a fattening site at North Allerton, North Yorkshire, although the industry was quick to deny it would affect Christmas turkey supplies​.

How bird flu can spread

Bird flu circulates naturally in wild birds and when they migrate to the UK from mainland Europe over the winter they can spread the disease to poultry and other captive birds.

Backyard owners with smaller numbers of poultry including chickens, ducks and geese must also take steps​ to limit the risk of the disease spreading to their animals.

The UK health agencies advise the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the UK food standards agencies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

North Yorkshire

Following a risk assessment, England's chief vet has also declared a localised AIPZ for the districts of Harrogate, Hambleton and Richmondshire in North Yorkshire​.

This means from 8pm on 21 November 2021, bird keepers in the area have been legally required to keep their birds indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures in order to limit the spread of and eradicate the disease.

In a joint statement the chief vets for England, Scotland and Wales said: "Following a number of detections of avian influenza in wild birds across GB we have declared an AIPZ across the whole of Great Britain. This means that all bird keepers must take action now to prevent the disease spreading to poultry and other domestic birds.

Higher biosecurity standards

"Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, you are now legally required to introduce higher biosecurity standards on your farm or small holding. It is in your interests to do so in order to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.

"The UK health agencies have confirmed that the risk to public health is very low and UK food standards agencies advise that bird flu poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers."

The introduction of the AIPZ comes after the disease was detected in captive birds at a number of premises.

In England this includes:

  • H5N1 (high pathogenic) avian influenza confirmed at a rescue centre near Droitwich in Worcestershire on 27 October.
  • H5N1 (high pathogenic) avian influenza confirmed at a commercial poultry premises near Alcester in Warwickshire on 8 November.
  • H5N1 (high pathogenic) avian influenza confirmed at an animal sanctuary near Frinton-on-Sea in Essex on 12 November.
  • H5N1 (high pathogenic) avian influenza confirmed at a commercial poultry premises near Salwick in Lancashire on 14 November.
  • H5N1 (high pathogenic) avian influenza confirmed at a commercial poultry premises near Leeming Bar in North Yorkshire on 14 November.
  • H5N1 (high pathogenic) avian influenza confirmed at a premises near Kirkham in Lancashire on 16 November.
  • H5N1 (high pathogenic) avian influenza confirmed in birds at a premises near Willington, South Derbyshire on 19 November.
  • H5N1 (high pathogenic) avian influenza confirmed at a premises near Pokesdown, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole on 19 November.
  • H5N1 (high pathogenic) avian influenza confirmed at a premises near Copeland in Cumbria on 21 November.
  • H5N1 (high pathogenic) avian influenza confirmed at a premises near Mouldsworth, Cheshire West & Chester, Cheshire on 21 November.
  • H5N1 (pathogenicity to be confirmed) avian influenza confirmed at a premises near North Fambridge, Maldon, Essex on 21 November.
  • H5N1 (pathogenicity to be confirmed) avian influenza confirmed at a premises near Wells-next-the-Sea, North Norfolk on 21 November.
  • H5N1 (pathogenicity to be confirmed) avian influenza confirmed at a commercial poultry premises near Thirsk, Hambleton, North Yorkshire on 21 November.

In all cases, the birds on site are humanely culled and Protection and Surveillance Zones are put in place to limit the risk of the disease spreading.

The risk level for avian influenza incursion in wild Birds in Great Britain has been raised from ‘medium’ to ‘high’. For poultry and captive birds the risk level has been raised from ‘low’ to ‘medium’ at premises where biosecurity is below the required standards, but remains ‘low’ where stringent biosecurity measures are applied.

Related topics: Supply Chain, Meat, poultry & seafood

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