Chief Veterinary Officers (CVOs) across the UK have agreed to bring extra measures to protect poultry and captive birds following rising cases of AI.
From 14 December, it will be a legal requirement for all bird keepers to keep their birds indoors and follow strict biosecurity measures.
The housing order follows a rising number of high pathogenic AI cases in both wild birds and poultry in the UK, including most recently cases of the H5N8 strain in turkeys at a farm near Attleborough, Norfolk and a holding near Northallerton, North Yorkshire. At least 30,000 turkeys on the Norfolk farm are believed to have been culled. In a statement, the CVOs said they had not taken the decision lightly: “We have taken action to limit the spread of the disease and are now planning to introduce a legal requirement for all poultry and captive bird keepers to keep their birds housed or otherwise separate from wild birds.”
The move comes on top of the GB-wide Avian Influenza Protection Zone, which was implemented last month. It is the first time in 4 years that a housing order had been imposed because of AI. The measure lasted for nearly 6 months and led to disruption in the free-range sector, which at the time had to class its eggs as being from barn systems. The egg industry has said free-range eggs will not have to be reclassified, at least during the fixed 16 weeks period of grace. But if the Order remains in place in April, producers and packers may need to negotiate with retailers to use stickers, explaining the higher welfare status of the eggs, which happened in 2017.
Commenting on the move, the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (Bfrepa) welcomed the decision. Chief Executive Robert Gooch said: “The top priority for our members is bird welfare which is why we fully support a housing order as a necessary step towards protecting our hens from avian influenza. “Farmers now have a short period to prepare for the housing order… We are in regular contact with Defra and the Chief Veterinary Officer to monitor the spread of avian influenza and are urging all poultry keepers to comply with the rules of the housing order as well as implementing robust biosecurity protocols.”
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NFU Chief Poultry Adviser Aimee Mahony said that due to the number of confirmed AI cases, the introduction of new housing measures was a logical next step to protect poultry. “Giving poultry keepers notice of these new measures will allow them to prepare and implement them to the best of their ability.
“These new measures mean that every poultry keep, whether you have one hen in the garden or a large poultry business, must house their birds indoors and I would urge everyone with poultry to take these measures seriously.”