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Avian Influenza: Disease Control

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN HL2657, tabled on 17 October 2022

To ask His Majesty's Government what progress they have made with the (1) treatment, and (2) prevention, of bird flu since the establishment of a research consortium on the issue announced on 20 June.

Answered on

31 October 2022

Defra’s approach to avian influenza is set out in the Notifiable Avian Disease Control Strategy for Great Britain supported by the Mitigation Strategy for Avian Influenza in Wild Birds in England and Wales. Current policy reflects our experience of responding to past outbreaks of exotic animal disease and is in line with international standards of best practice for disease control. Defra’s disease control measures seek to contain the number of animals that need to be culled, either for disease control purposes or to safeguard animal welfare. Our approach aims to reduce adverse impacts on the rural and wider economy, the public, rural communities and the environment (including impact on wildlife), whilst protecting public health and minimising the overall cost of any outbreak.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) leads HM Government action on animal disease control and alongside HM Government’s continued investment in the Avian Influenza National Reference Laboratory and APHA’s Weybridge site; earlier this year an eight-strong consortium ‘FluMap’ led by APHA and funded by Defra and the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) was launched that received £1.5 million in funding to develop new strategies to tackle avian influenza outbreaks. This year-long research project will help build our understanding in a number of key areas, including why the current virus strains have formed larger and longer outbreaks and understanding transmission and infection in different bird populations. The research gaps addressed by the consortium were identified from the recent STAR-IDAZ International Research Consortium Animal Influenza Research Review and knowledge gaps identified during recent avian influenza outbreaks. The STAR-IDAZ International Research Consortium is a global initiative aiming to coordinate research programmes at the international level and to contribute to the development of new and improved animal health strategies for priority diseases, infections and issues. The research consortium will report in due course, as this is a year-long programme of work, but Defra officials have regular meetings with the consortium members to monitor progress.

Defra’s approach to avian influenza prevention and control considers the latest ornithological, epidemiological, veterinary and other scientific advice. However, once a bird has been infected with the influenza virus, there is no treatment available. The virus spreads very rapidly through poultry flocks and causes a very high level of mortality in gallinaceous poultry. Defra will continue to monitor the situation both in Europe and globally, and the effectiveness of any disease control measures taken and will consider developments from both 'FluMap' and the wider research programmes at APHA, and other academic institutions when reviewing the effectiveness of our current approach to avian influenza.