Welcome Easter present for East Anglian free range egg producers hit by restrictions after bird flu outbreaks
- Credit: Archant
A free range egg producer hit by restrictions imposed to stop the spread of bird flu welcomed a government decision to lift them this week.
On Thursday, Alastaire Brice, of Havensfield Happy Hens in Hoxne was able to allow hens out for the first time since December on two of his farms. They fell within areas that had been designated as at 'higher risk' from H5N8 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The move meant his eggs could go back to being free range in time for Easter, along with others caught within 'higher risk areas' across the country, including a large swathe of East Anglian coastline and some inland areas of the region deemed at risk from infection from wild birds.
Eggs from Alaistaire's farms temporarily lost their free range status and had to be re-labelled because the hens had been inside too long to qualify. Up until Thursday, DEFRA said producers in the areas either had to keep their poultry housed, or under nets.
Under nets they could keep their free range status, but Alaistaire said the option was impractical and raised various problems.
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Farms outside the 'higher risk' areas were allowed to let poultry out at an earlier date - but strict biosecurity rules apply.
The measures followed outbreaks in farms across the country, including at a farm in Redgrave, which resulted in a poultry cull to contain the disease. Follow-up investigations to the outbreak resulted in another precautionary cull at a nearby Suffolk farm.
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DEFRA said the latest decision, announced on Monday, was taken on the basis of the latest veterinary advice and scientific evidence which concluded the level of risk in the Higher Risk Areas had now reduced to the same level as that across the rest of England.
Alaistaire welcomed the lifting of the restrictions, but 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. Since December when the disease was discovered in the UK, the strain was confirmed at farms in Northumberland, Suffolk, Lancashire and Lincolnshire, and in backyard flocks in North Yorkshire and Carmarthenshire. It was found in wild birds in England, Scotland and Wales.