East Anglian free range producers celebrate lifting of bird flu restrictions in ‘higher risk’ areas

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

East Anglian free range poultry farmers hit by restrictions imposed to try and stamp out bird flu in the UK have welcomed an announcement that they will be lifted this week.

The UK's chief vet said that as of Thursday, April 13, restrictions which meant they had to keep their birds under nets or inside if they were in areas deemed at 'higher risk' of catching the H5N8 disease from wild birds will end.

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, meant many birds and eggs officially lost their 'free range' status temporarily because they had been kept indoors.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said the latest 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.

However, strict biosecurity measures remain in place to keep the threat at bay.

Alaistaire Brice, of Havensfield Happy Hens at Hoxne, near Eye, said two of his farms were affected by the current restrictions, but he welcomed news that this would be coming to an end. He also called for a better plan to deal with future outbreaks.

'The best thing about it is the plan has worked. We have had not further outbreaks,' he said.

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He thanked the public for their support during the restriction period, which meant produce had to be re-labelled as it no longer complied with rules around free range status. The extra work in the packhouse this caused had put them behind, he said.

'Havensfield would like to say thank you to all our customers for bearing with us through these difficult times. The whole industry has been heartened by the response of the public.'

Since December when the disease was discovered in the UK, the H5N8 strain of the disease was confirmed at farms in Northumberland, Suffolk, Lancashire and Lincolnshire, and in backyard flocks in North Yorkshire and Carmarthenshire. The same strain was also found in wild birds in England, Scotland and Wales. Retailers supported the free range egg sector with signage making clear that birds have been housed for their own welfare due to the threat of avian influenza.

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