Avian flu compensation bill could run to ‘tens of millions’ in Northern Ireland

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has said the bill for compensation paid to those affected by Avian Influenza could potentially run to “tens of millions of pounds”.
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Mr Poots was speaking to the Nolan Shown on BBC Radio Ulster this morning.

Host, Stephen Nolan, said this was a “huge line from the minister” and questioned “where are we getting this money from?”.

The Agriculture Minister said the amount of compensation to be paid to poultry keepers would not be hundreds of millions, but is “likely to be tens”.

Indeed, one flock could cost up to £1,000,000, such as the large scale cull of ducks carried out last week.

He explained it was the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs who carry out the cull and then offer compensation to poultry farmers.

How much is paid in relation to each flock is a discussion between veterinary officials and the farmer, he stated.

Mr Poots said avian influenza “has significant impact on the bird population, both wild birds and commercial birds, and it is a devastating flu - if it gets into your flock it will wipe out your flock, it’s as simple as that”.

He continued: “Well over 20 flocks in Britain, at the minute, have been wiped out – it has that potential.”

Mr Poots urged poultry owners, including those who keep a hobby flock, to follow the strict biosecurity measures outlined by his department.

“It is for people to observe the highest biosecurity standards they have ever adopted on their commercial premises to avoid the spread of this,” he added.

The Agriculture Minister said free-range birds should be housed and outside areas, including meal bins, should be kept really clean at all times to avoid attracting wild birds.

He also advised changing boots when you enter a chicken house, putting on a boiler suit and disinfecting.

“We have given out instructions to farmers and, indeed, people who own backyard flocks, there’s a lot of people who keep chickens for a hobby,” he continued.

“It could cause a significant bill and our department would have to go to the centre to seek support for that.

“For some flocks it could be £200,000, for some flocks it could be a million, it just depends on the scale.

“It could be up to that, you could maybe get five or six chicken houses in the one place and, particularly if there is parent or grandparent poultry there, they are of higher value and are producing the young chicks.

“It is a significant concern for us, the avian flu and everything that arises from it and us impressing upon everyone, both commercial and, indeed, people who have their private flocks in their backyards, that everyone takes this seriously and ensures that they take the appropriate measures to stop this awful disease spreading amongst the bird population.”

As for the two culls carried out in Northern Ireland in recent days, Mr Poots said he is “not sure what they have cost” but the ducks will be a “significant bill”.

“At this stage we don’t know. That will be a discussion between my veterinary officials and, indeed, the owners of the flocks.

“The case in terms of the ducks, it will be a significant bill, the other is around 30 birds so it will be a very modest bill.

“We have a huge population of fowl in Northern Ireland, we are very successful in terms of our production of poultry meat and, indeed, eggs and, therefore, we just don’t know.

“We are receiving massive co-operation out there and people don’t want this coming into their flock, it will never pay them to get avian bird flu because of the loss of business, the loss of trade, restocking, all of that.”

As for the “significant bill” avian influenza could potentially cause, and how they will cover the costs, the Agriculture Minister said they will ‘do their best to avoid it’.

“I don’t think it will run into hundreds of millions, but certainly it has the potential to run into tens of millions,” he revealed.

“Whenever there is crisis we have to find money, and that’s just the circumstances we find ourselves in.

“All of this, we will do our best to avoid, and we will take the stringent biosecurity measures.

“We have put control zones around the outbreaks where that has happened and that will ensure that all movements, including food moving into the flocks, anything coming out of those chicken houses within those control zone areas are all recorded.

“We know exactly what is going on.”

The minister said the outbreak of avian influenza in Northern Ireland has created a “huge amount of work” for the staff within the veterinary team.

“They will actually probably be burnt out by the time that this is over, because we are looking at three to four months of this before the migratory birds go back,” he added.

“This is a highly pathogenic strain – it spreads very quickly and it’s devastating whenever it gets into a flock.”

For more information on avian influenza, visit the DAERA website at www.daera-ni.gov.uk where you can find a checklist to help keep your flock safe.