The UK’s fight against avian influenza has received a boost following the announcement of additional cash to tackle zoonotic diseases.
Up to £200 million (€239 million) is being invested in the government’s Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA) laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey, to tackle bird flu and bovine tuberculosis.
The money is being spent on a revamp of the scientific laboratories and has been at the forefront in tackling the largest avian influenza outbreak on record. The outbreak of Covid-19 has reiterated the importance of boosting resilience to help prevent future pandemics.
New equipment and specialist testing facilities will mean APHA scientists can identify pathogens for existing and emerging threats posed by diseases spread by animals and maintain high biosecurity against bird flu, salmonella, and bovine TB. APHA is also playing an essential role in tackling the current outbreak, supporting the rapid response to try and limit its spread, and ensuring that the poultry industry is able to continue to operate. This investment in facilities will enable Weybridge scientists to quickly sample, analyse and confirm the presence of bird flu in a location so APHA can act fast to tackle the threat.
Biosecurity Minister, Lord Benyon, said: “The UK is a world leader when it comes to science and biosecurity. I have seen for myself the remarkable work done by APHA in responding to the recent outbreak of AI. This investment builds on a long-term programme to future-proof our animal health capabilities and ensure that we are at the forefront of defense against future pandemics..”
Gideon Henderson, Defra Chief Scientific Adviser, added: “The importance of APHA’s work for the society and for the UK economy is shown again and again – witness their work on the present avian influenza outbreak.”
The announcement comes at a time when the UK is seeing a growing number of infections in non-commercial birds, but there are also signs that rates are beginning to plateau.
Mark Williams, British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) chief executive, said one positive development had been the move by the British Retail Consortium to accept the BEIC’s position on Egg Marketing Standards, should the 16-week derogation period be exceeded. The agreement sets out the industry and BEIC’s position on printing for eggs and egg packs, if free-range hens were required to remain housed longer than 16 weeks.