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Avian Influenza

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN HL7380, tabled on 28 March 2022

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact of outbreaks of avian flu.

Answered on

11 April 2022

The UK is currently experiencing the largest outbreak of Avian Influenza with (as of 30 March 2022) 109 cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 confirmed in poultry & captive birds (89 in England, 5 in Wales, 9 in Scotland, 6 in Northern Ireland). To date, 2.4 million birds have been culled and disposed, a small proportion of overall poultry production (c.20m birds a week).

Through the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) found dead wild bird surveillance scheme, there have been 841 findings of avian influenza in wild birds, in 242 locations involving 39 bird species in 73 counties. All findings in wild birds have been the HPAI H5N1 strain with the exception of a single finding of HPAI H5N8. This includes carcases collected and submitted to APHA for testing up to the 21 March 2022.

The UK Health Security Agency has said that avian influenza is primarily a disease of birds and the risk to the general public’s health is very low. The Food Standards Agency has said that, on the basis of the current scientific evidence, avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

In addition to the disease control impacts outlined above, following the introduction of mandatory housing as part of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone in force across the UK, the 16 week “grace period” during which eggs from birds which were intended to be free-range may be marketed as free-range even though they are housed, expired at 00:01 on 21 March 2022. In most cases the eggs from continuously housed birds from the end of the grace period would meet the criteria to be sold as “barn eggs”. Changes to labelling and point of sales information are required to reflect this change in status.