Vigilance urged as bird flu strikes farm in England

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Northern Ireland’s Chief Veterinary Officer has urged poultry farmers in the province to be vigilant following the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affair’s (DEFRA) confirmation of the presence of the highly pathogenic strain of Avian Influenza H5N8 on a turkey farm in England.

Robert J Huey said the confirmation of highly pathogenic avian influenza relates only to an infected farm near Louth, Lincolnshire, only, but it has implications for the whole of the United Kingdom.

This is the same strain that has been circulating in Europe.

Mr Huey said: “Since we became aware of the early indications of the disease in Lincolnshire, DAERA staff have been in direct contact with key poultry industry representatives and stakeholders in Northern Ireland to advise them of the situation and to emphasise the need for increased vigilance.

“While the situation is being kept under review, I would encourage bird keepers, as a precaution, to revisit, and, where necessary, improve their own biosecurity.

“As a precaution, general licences for the movement of live poultry or hatching eggs from Great Britain to Northern Ireland has been suspended from 9am, Monday, December 19, and being replaced with specific licenses, for which they must apply to the department.”

Mr Huey explained that DAERA is continuing to liaise closely with DEFRA and the other devolved administrations and will be reviewing the veterinary risk assessment for Northern Ireland, the results of which will inform whether any additional local control measures are required at this time.

As the island of Ireland is a single epidemiological unit the department has informed its counterparts in the Republic of Ireland of the situation and continue to work closely with them to ensure that consistent and proportionate measures to protect the island of Ireland are applied.

Advice from the Public Health England is that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency has made it clear that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers. Thoroughly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

Meanwhile, in the Republic of Ireland, IFA poultry committee chairman Nigel Renaghan has deep concerns about the Department of Agriculture’s most recent advice, which allows Irish free range poultry producers to maintain flocks outdoors in the wake of the recent bird flu outbreak in the UK.

“Wild birds, particularly ducks, are the source of the disease,” he said. “And if the current problem can be traced from the east of England back to France, there is no reason why diseased birds could not make it to Ireland. All of this has turned convention on its head. So I am, fundamentally, concerned that the source of the disease can be traced back to France in the first instance.”