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Avian Influenza: Disease Control

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN 38745, tabled on 18 July 2022

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment he has made of his Department’s effectiveness in dealing with avian flu in the last two years; and if he will make a statement.

Answered on

22 July 2022

Over the last two years, the UK has experienced its largest ever outbreaks of avian influenza. Together with unprecedented numbers of findings of avian influenza in wild birds, between November 2020 and March 2021, 26 cases of notifiable avian influenza were confirmed in poultry and other captive birds, and during the current outbreak and since October 2021, 125 cases have been confirmed in poultry and other captive birds (prior to this the largest outbreak was 13 cases overwinter in 2016/2017). A similar situation is also being experienced across continental Europe and North America.

Defra’s objective in tackling any outbreak of avian influenza is to eradicate the disease as quickly as possible from the UK poultry and captive-bird population and regain UK World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) disease-free status. Defra’s approach is set out in the Notifiable Avian Disease Control Strategy for Great Britain (www.gov.uk/government/publications/notifiable-avian-disease-control-strategy). Current policy is in line with international standards of best practice for disease control. It reflects our experience of responding to past outbreaks of exotic animal disease. However, we continue to monitor the current situation both in Europe and globally, as well as the effectiveness of any disease control measures taken.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) are leading on a cross-government, cross-agency review of lessons identified during the recent outbreaks. This review aims to identify what went well and areas where improvements can be made to improve the effectiveness of the response to future outbreaks. Any future decisions on disease control measures will be based upon the latest scientific, ornithological, and veterinary advice.

In addition, epidemiological reports setting out our investigations into confirmed cases of avian influenza in poultry and other captive birds in Great Britain are published. Reports from past outbreaks are available on GOV.UK (www.gov.uk/government/publications/reports-relating-to-recent-cases-of-avian-influenza-bird-flu). The report of the current outbreak is in preparation and will be published once finalised.

Controlling avian influenza is only possible thanks to the tireless work of the APHA’s field and laboratory staff in often challenging conditions as well as the continued efforts of all birds keepers to maintain scrupulous biosecurity and vigilance for signs of disease.