23,000 poultry to be culled in Redgrave after suspected bird flu outbreak
- Credit: Archant
An estimated 23,000 birds are due to be slaughtered after a suspected outbreak of bird flu at a poultry farm near Diss.
A 10km Temporary Control Zone has been established around a premises near Redgrave in Suffolk, following the discovery of the H5N8 strain of avian influenza.
A Defra spokesman said laboratory analysis has 'definitively identified' the presence of H5N8, but the site is still being treated as a suspected outbreak while further investigations continue into the nature of the virus, and to establish the possible source of the infection.
A number of the 23,000 birds at the affected premises have died and 'it has been decided to humanely cull the remaining birds', said Defra.
Although the infection can be fatal for birds, Public Health England said the risk to public health from the virus is 'very low' and the Food Standards Agency stressed that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.
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The H5N8 strain has been circulating in Europe for several months, and there have been UK outbreaks in Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Wales and Yorkshire in the last two months – despite preventative measures introduced in December requiring captive birds to be housed indoors.
NFU (National Farmers' Union) East Anglia poultry specialist John Newton said there would now be further restrictions for any poultry businesses within the 10km temporary control zone set up around the suspected outbreak – but potentially significant financial damage to the business at the centre of it.
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'This is very significant for East Anglia,' he said. 'The poultry meat industry is worth something like £660m to this region and we house about a quarter of the country's broilers, so it is a major sector in East Anglia.
'There will be a large amount of farms in that area caught up in these temporary control zones. Everyone will have to apply to the APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) for a licence to move poultry or eggs or litter off the premises.
'For the individual (the suspected outbreak site) it is a major problem. There is compensation for the live birds that are culled to reduce the spread, but it is the consequential costs of secondary cleansing and disinfecting where the real cost is involved. It is very prescriptive about what has to be done, and it all needs to be done under veterinary supervision and the cost can go into hundreds of thousands of pounds.'
If confirmed, the Suffolk case will be the ninth outbreak of H5N8 in the UK since bird flu reached the UK from mainland Europe, and outdoor UK flocks were ordered indoors in December to try to prevent its spread from migrating birds.
Duck specialists Gressingham Foods, which has its headquarters at Debach, near Woodbridge, but operates close to the affected site, has put out a statement to reassure its customers that it is not the affected farm.
'We would like to reassure all our customers that this farm is not operated by Gressingham foods, our birds are in good health and there are no direct links to our factory or farms,' it said.
'In accordance with guidance from Defra, Gressingham Foods has been operating at a heightened level of biosecurity since Autumn 2016 when outbreaks of avian influenza (AI) were first found in Europe. Since December when AI reached mainland Britain, we have restricted movement between sites and cancelled all non-essential visits.
'Unfortunately, due to the location of the affected farm, the restriction zone extends around our slaughter plant at Redgrave, therefore all bird movements in this area have been temporarily halted with immediate effect.'
As a result of the exclusion zone, all production has transferred to its Debach site, it said, while production at the Redgrave site has ceased until further notice.
'The site near Woodbridge is outside any restricted zone and therefore we can continue to process and supply our duck. During a brief period of transition there may be some disruption in supply and we will keep all customers informed of their order status on a day to day basis.
'We repeat that our birds are healthy and unaffected by the outbreak, and we have no immediate issues with the supply of ducks to our Debach site during this difficult time.'
ANALYSIS: By EDP agricultural editor Chris Hill
After months of worry, the arrival of bird flu in the heart of East Anglia will be a major concern for the region's poultry industry.
This is one of our largest and most important agricultural sectors, which has already had to cope with enforced housing orders since December in an effort to halt the spread of the disease.
Defra officials have now instigated the same two-tiered 'protection zone' system which has been credited with helping to contain previous outbreaks in counties including Lincolnshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire.
That will mean the inconvenience of another layer of restrictions for poultry businesses within 10km of the suspected case near the Norfolk-Suffolk border. And the farm at the heart of that zone will pay the heaviest price of all, with its birds culled, its stock removed, and the bill of an intensive clean-up to purge the infection from the site.
But while this is awful news for farm businesses, it is important for consumers to remember that the risk to public health is rated 'very low', and there is no risk to food safety – so there is no need to stop buying poultry British products, as this would inflict further damage on this embattled industry.
WHAT THE ZONES MEAN
Defra has established a two-layered Temporary Control Zone around the suspected outbreak site, close to the Norfolk-Suffolk border, which requires poultry keepers to adhere to a strict set of regulations to prevent further spread of the disease.
There are separate requirements for premises in Zone A, within a 3km radius, and Zone B, within 10km, but all premises must:
• Continue to keep poultry and other captive birds in their buildings or isolated from other captive and wild birds.
• Not move poultry or other captive birds on or off premises where other birds are kept, unless a licence is granted.
• Ensure appropriate biosecurity measures are in place for people entering or leaving any premises where poultry or eggs are kept.
• Not move poultry and eggs out of the zone without a licence.
• Cleanse and disinfect vehicles which may be contaminated.
• Keep specified records of poultry and visitor movements.
For full details of restrictions, see the Defra web site.