100,000 Gressingham ducks to be culled in 'heartbreaking' bird flu outbreak
- Credit: Ella Wilkinson
Around 100,000 Gressingham ducks will be culled at four linked farms near Watton after a major East Anglian poultry producer confirmed its second bird flu outbreak in eight days.
Gressingham Foods, the UK's largest duck producer, says a highly-pathogenic strain of avian influenza (AI) has infected a flock run by its supplier Green Label Poultry at Foulden Road in Ickburgh.
Starting today, all 100,000 birds will be humanely culled across the complex of four neighbouring duck-rearing units, to prevent the disease spreading.
It follows an outbreak eight days earlier at Homelea Farm in Great Ellingham, near Attleborough - also run by Green Label Poultry - which prompted the cull of 8,000 Gressingham ducks.
A spokesman for Suffolk-based Gressingham Foods, which produces around 8m ducks per year for supermarkets, said the latest cull was "heartbreaking" for the farming teams and financially damaging for the business - but it would not affect customer supplies.
"We are working closely with the authorities and with our customers, and supplies to our customers won't be affected in any big way," he said.
"It is clearly going to be challenging for the business over the next three to four weeks, but we have got plans in place that mitigate any of these losses in volume.
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"This AI strain seems to be particularly virulent this year. We take our biosecurity very seriously and we run the highest hygiene standards across all our farms, so how this is getting into poultry sheds - across all sectors of the poultry industry, not just ducks - is very difficult to ascertain."
Defra has enforced a 3.4km Protection Zone and a 10.4km Surveillance Zone around the infected premises - slightly larger than usual to cover all four sites - to limit the risk of the disease spreading.
They include increased biosecurity requirements for poultry keepers and restrictions on the movement of poultry, eggs, meat and carcases.
The latest outbreak, confirmed by Defra on December 28, takes the county's worrying tally of bird flu cases to five this month, after 55,000 turkeys were culled at two farms near King's Lynn and Snetterton in the run-up to Christmas, and a smaller case was identified in non-commercial captive birds, also near Attleborough, on Boxing Day.
Gary Ford, East Anglia regional director for the National Farmers' Union, said: “This is further concerning news for our region’s vital poultry sector.
"It highlights just how great a threat avian influenza currently poses to birds. We would urge all poultry keepers to remain vigilant, to maintain enhanced biosecurity and to report any signs of disease in their birds to their vet or the Animal and Plant Health Agency."
From December 14, all poultry across the country - including free-range and back-yard flocks - have also been required to be kept indoors under a mandatory housing order announced by chief vets in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease.
Public Health England advises that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency advises that avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.
- Bird flu is a notifiable animal disease. Poultry keepers must report suspicion of disease to the APHA on 03000 200 301.