Bird flu outbreaks spark enforcement of emergency ‘prevention zone’

Poultry keepers have been warned to increase their biosecurity after a bird flu outbreak in Cheshire

Poultry keepers have been warned to increase their biosecurity after a bird flu outbreak in Cheshire. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

A national bird flu prevention zone has been declared to stop the spread of a disease which could be devastating for East Anglia’s poultry sector in its critical run-up to Christmas.

The Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) will be enforced across the whole of the country, making it a legal requirement for all bird keepers to follow strict biosecurity measures – whether they run commercial poultry businesses or small backyard flocks.

The UK’s chief vet announced the emergency measures after two bird flu cases were confirmed in poultry flocks in Cheshire and Kent last week, and a third case of the highly-pathogenic H5N8 strain in captive birds which was confirmed this week at a broiler breeder farm in Herefordshire. A small number of wild birds in South West of England have also been found to have had the disease.

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. Backyard keepers with smaller numbers of poultry are also urged to strengthen their biosecurity measures.

Tom Wornham, regional poultry board chairman for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) welcomed the “proportionate move” by the government to protect an industry which is a major contributor to the rural economy in East Anglia, where more than a fifth of England’s poultry farms are situated, producing meat with an estimated value of £557m in 2018. The region also produces about 10pc of England’s eggs and 40pc of England’s turkeys.

“East Anglia is a hugely important region for poultry farming and we are in a critical stage in the run-up to Christmas,” he said. “We must do everything we can to avoid an outbreak here that could have serious consequences for individual farms and the wider industry.

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“I would urge everyone, whether you have a few birds or a few thousand birds, to follow these rules so we can protect all poultry from this highly infectious disease.”

The prevention zone means bird keepers across the country must:

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• Ensure the areas where birds are kept are unattractive to wild birds, for example by netting ponds, and by removing wild bird food sources.

• Feed and water birds in enclosed areas to discourage wild birds.

• Minimise movement in and out of bird enclosures.

• Clean and disinfect footwear and keep areas where birds live clean and tidy.

• Reduce any existing contamination by cleansing and disinfecting concrete areas, and fencing off wet or boggy areas.

READ MORE: New Agriculture Act is a ‘landmark moment’ for post-Brexit farmingPublic Health England (PHE) advises that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency advises 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.

The last major UK outbreak of bird flu in early 2017 including three cases in the Diss area which prompted the culling of thousands of birds. Until last week, the UK had remained free of “highly pathogenic” strains of avian influenza since September 2017, but a “low pathogenic” strain returned to East Anglia in December 2019 when a confirmed case prompted the cull of 27,000 chickens at a commercial chicken farm in Athelington, near Eye.

The AIPZ declaration follows a decision to raise the risk level for avian influenza incursion in wild birds in Great Britain from “medium” to “high” last week, with winter bringing an increasing risk of infection from migrating birds.

• Bird flu is a notifiable animal disease. Poultry keepers and members of the public should report dead wild birds to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 and keepers must report suspicion of disease to APHA on 03000 200 301.

• For full disease prevention advice see the avian influenza pages on the .GOV wesbite.

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