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Avian Influenza: Enhanced biosecurity measures introduced

Statement made on 4 November 2021

Statement UIN HLWS362

Statement

My Hon Friend the Minister of State (Victoria Prentis) has today made the following statement.

High pathogenicity H5N1 avian influenza has been circulating in Europe in recent weeks. There have now been three confirmed cases in kept birds in Great Britain. One in a wild bird rescue centre in Worcestershire, one in a small backyard flock in Wales and one in kept birds in Angus in Scotland. There have also been several findings in wild birds in north Wales, Lancashire and the east coast of Scotland. The risk of further H5 highly pathogenic avian influenza incursions in wild birds across Great Britain has recently been raised to high and to medium for poultry where biosecurity is poor and remains low where biosecurity is stringent. We will continue to undertake comprehensive disease surveillance over the coming weeks and months.

The UK Health Security Agency advises that the risk to public health is very low and the Food Standards Agency has said there is no food safety risk for UK consumers. The current strain is the European strain of H5N1 and not the Asian strain that has had human health impacts.

In response to the increased risk to poultry and other captive birds, the Department has put in place a statutory avian influenza prevention zone. The zone requires keepers across the country to take additional steps to implement enhanced biosecurity measures and to protect poultry and other captive birds from contact with wild birds. Some of these measures apply to all keepers, including those with small flocks or pet birds. They include:

  • cleansing and disinfection of equipment, vehicles and footwear when moving between bird premises;
  • effective vermin control;
  • reducing movements of people to the essentials for the birds’ welfare, collecting eggs and feeding;
  • keeping records of poultry, captive birds and egg movements;
  • ensuring that buildings are maintained and that repairs are carried out without delay where water or other contamination may penetrate.

There is no published end-date and the zone will remain in place until the risk levels change. The zone will be kept under regular review and amended as necessary in the light of any changes in circumstances.

Given that outbreaks are occurring across Europe and we now have confirmed cases in England, Wales and Scotland, the introduction of this zone has been agreed and co-ordinated with the devolved Administrations, and Scottish and Welsh Governments are introducing similar measures. Northern Ireland officials, who have been involved in the discussions, are considering their next steps.

We have tried and tested procedures for dealing with such animal disease outbreaks and a strong track record of controlling and eliminating previous outbreaks of avian flu in the UK. Our actions are in line with established practice and with the processes followed in previous years. Avian influenza prevention zones, for example, were introduced in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in winter 2020/21. We are working closely with delivery partners, devolved Administration colleagues and the industry.

The detections of H5N1 in poultry and captive birds have been dealt with effectively by the Animal and Plant Health Agency. We have taken robust action, imposing zones of up to 10 km (six miles) around infected premises to limit the risk of disease spreading and implementing a stamping out policy humanely culling birds, biosecurely disposing the carcases, cleansing and disinfecting the site and undertaking tracings to check for possible source and spread.

Looking forward, the Department will keep the avian influenza prevention zone under review and will consider amendments to reflect any changes to the level of risk of incursion to wild birds and poultry as well as any further scientific, veterinary and ornithological advice. We are also considering options on bird gatherings such as shows, sales, auctions, markets, multi-pick-up couriers and hen ‘hotels’.

We have not yet required mandatory housing of all poultry and captive birds as part of our response to the disease risk. This measure was last used in winter 2020/21 and had also been used in winter 2016/17. However, such a measure remains under active review as a potentially important step.

We continue to urge bird keepers to be vigilant for any signs of disease, ensure they are maintaining good biosecurity on their premises, seek prompt advice from their vet and report suspect disease to APHA (as they must do by law).

We strongly advise keepers to register on the poultry register so as to receive notifications and disease alerts. This is mandatory for all those with flocks of over 50 birds. Registration is easy and can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/poultry-including-game-birds-registration-rules-and-forms