Bird flu outbreak is a ‘wake-up call’ for poultry farmers
PUBLISHED: 15:59 12 December 2019 | UPDATED: 15:59 12 December 2019
The return of bird flu to East Anglia should act as a “wake-up call” for the region’s poultry farmers to step up their efforts to prevent another devastating outbreak.
That was the warning from industry leaders after a "low pathogenic" strain of avian influenza was found at Homefield Farm in Athelington, near Eye, on Tuesday - prompting the cull of 27,000 chickens.
It was the first confirmed case of bird flu in commercial poultry or kept birds in the UK since June 2017.
Mark Gorton is a director of Traditional Norfolk Poultry (TNP) based in Shropham, near Thetford, which is processing around 350,000 free-range Christmas turkeys this year. He is also a member of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) poultry board.
"I would say this outbreak is a wake-up call," he said. "It serves as a timely reminder that avian influenza is always a risk, and there is a risk of complacency when there has not been a reported case for so long. It is especially important to maintain our biosecurity at this time of year when wild birds are migrating."
That message was echoed by NFU chief poultry adviser Gary Ford, who said: "This confirmation of avian influenza is devastating news for the farm affected. However, Defra's prompt action has helped limit the risk of the disease spreading, and provided that it's contained to one site it will have very little impact on the wider poultry industry.
"It is imperative that all poultry keepers, including small backyard flocks, remain vigilant at this time and report any sign of disease immediately, as well as maintaining good biosecurity measures."
A one-kilometre exclusion zone has been set up around the affected farm, with a variety of controls implemented to limit the risk of the disease spreading.
These include restrictions on the movement of poultry, carcasses, eggs, used poultry litter and manure. There are also restrictions on bird gatherings (fairs, shows, exhibitions) and the release of game birds.
READ MORE: Residents inside restriction zone express shock at bird flu outbreak
Brian Finnerty, a spokesman for the NFU's East Anglia branch, said: "Poultry farmers will understandably be concerned to hear this news but we know from previous experience of bird flu outbreaks in East Anglia that it can quickly be brought under control and eliminated.
"It's important that all poultry farmers review their biosecurity and to call their vet immediately if birds show signs of this disease.
"The poultry sector is extremely important in East Anglia - poultry meat was worth £1bn in 2017 and a quarter of England's table chicken is produced in our region."
The British Poultry Council (BPC) also urged both poultry farms and backyard keepers to boost their biosecurity and stay alert for any signs of the disease - and stressed that festive poultry supplies would be unaffected as the isolated outbreak had "no link whatsoever to the Christmas turkey market".
Public Health England said the risk to public health is very low and the Food Standards Agency said food safety is not at risk.
The low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) found at Athelington is a less serious strain of the disease than the one which broke out in February 2017 in Redgrave, near Diss, which required a 10km surveillance zone to be implemented.
Defra said a detailed investigation is under way to determine the likely source of the outbreak.
Chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: "We are urgently looking for any evidence of disease spread associated with this strain to control and eliminate it."
Symptoms in birds include a swollen head, discolouration of neck and throat, loss of appetite, respiratory distress, diarrhoea and fewer eggs laid - although clinical signs vary between species.
- Bird flu is a notifiable animal disease. If type of bird flu is suspected in poultry, keepers must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.
- If the public find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds such as gulls or birds of prey, they should report them to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.