Bird flu restrictions in ‘higher risk areas’ set to be lifted

A DEFRA housing order was imposed in December to try to prevent the spread of bird flu.

A DEFRA housing order was imposed in December to try to prevent the spread of bird flu. - Credit: Archant

Bird flu restrictions imposed to try to stamp out an outbreak of the H5N8 strain in England are set to be lifted on Thursday, April 13.

The UK's chief vet said birds will no longer need to be kept inside or under nets in areas currently designated as 'Higher Risk Areas' because of the threat of infection from wild birds.

As a result of the restrictions, which affect free range poultry and egg producers across parts of East Anglia, including a large swathe of coastline, and inland, many birds and eggs officially lost their 'free range' status temporarily because they had been kept indoors.

Strict biosecurity measures remain in place to keep the threat at bay, and a ban on poultry gatherings remains in place across the UK. This applies to birds including chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese, and restricts events such as livestock fairs, auctions and bird shows.

The risk to public health is 'very low', according to Public Health England and the Foods Standards Agency said there was no food safety issue for consumers.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said the decision was taken on the basis of the latest veterinary advice and scientific evidence which concluded that the level of risk to poultry in the Higher Risk Areas has now reduced to the same level as that across the rest of England.

Most egg producers in England can now let birds outside provided they observe strict disease prevention measures, DEFRA said.

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Since December when the disease was discovered in the UK, the H5N8 strain of the disease has been confirmed at farms in Northumberland, Suffolk, Lancashire and Lincolnshire, and in backyard flocks in North Yorkshire and Carmarthenshire.

In addition to being found in poultry, the same strain of the virus has also been found in wild birds in England, Scotland and Wales.

Retailers across the country have supported the free range egg industry with signage making clear that birds have been housed for their own welfare due to the threat of avian influenza.

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