The UK has suffered a further bird flu outbreak just days after the government lifted its housing order on outdoor flocks. The case of H5N1 was confirmed at a free-range flock at Lowdham, Nottinghamshire, and the Animal Plant Health Agency has begun an investigation into the infection route.
The order, brought in last year at the end of November, was lifted on 2 May after more than 100 cases were recorded in the UK’s worse winter outbreak.
Aimee Mahony, NFU chief poultry adviser, said it was too early to say whether the flock was already infected before the housing ban had been lifted. But, she said it was clear avian flu remained a serious risk to UK flocks and that flock-keepers should remain vigilant and maintain strict biosecurity levels on units.
From mid-March, eggs from hens previously classified as free-range were sold as barn eggs due to the amount of time (16 weeks) they had been indoors due to avian flu, which has frustrated the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC).
Mark Williams, BEIC chief executive, said the sector was lobbying for change. Speaking at the recent Pig and Poultry Fair, Williams called for a policy change to protect free-range status during future avian influenza outbreaks.
“The 16-week period over-ran and so we had a number of weeks whereby eggs had to be labelled as barn. At the end of the day, to you as producers in this room, you just wanted to make sure that you were receiving a return which was comparable to what you originally set those hens up as.
“In my book it is quite simple: they are still free-range hens but because of a piece of paper they have to be called barn after 16 weeks. That, to me, is wrong and we are actively lobbying government now we are out of Europe to change that.”
Williams said that if the sector could be aligned with organic regulations, birds would have to have access outside for a third of their lives. He said the government was not yet listening to the industry on the issue but promised more lobbying.