Bird flu order extended to end of February as more cases found

Poultry keepers have been put on alert over a strain of bird flu.

Poultry keepers have been put on alert over a strain of bird flu. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

A decision to extend an order to house poultry to prevent the spread of bird flu has been welcomed by East Anglia’s farmers’ leaders.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) East Anglia said the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ decision to extend the avian influenza (AI) prevention zone until the end of February was “a sensible precaution to protect poultry and the poultry industry within the region”.

The zone was introduced on December 6 and brought in enhanced biosecurity requirements for all keepers of poultry and housing of free range birds.

This has been extended until February 28, meaning keepers of free range birds will be required to continue to keep their birds indoors or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds. The rules apply to backyard poultry keepers as well as commercial farms.

NFU East Anglia poultry specialist John Newton said: “East Anglia is a hugely important region for poultry farming and we must do everything we can to avoid an outbreak that could have serious consequences for individual farms and the industry as a whole.

“Since the zone was introduced, wild birds have tested positive for the disease at seven locations across the country. While this risk to commercial poultry remains, it is essential that we maintain this prevention zone.

“As well as complying with this housing order, it is vital that poultry keepers continue to practice enhanced biosecurity and remain vigilant for any signs of the disease.”

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Bird flu has this week been confirmed in chickens and ducks on a premises near Pontyberem, Carmarthenshire, the Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales said.

The decision was taken to cull the birds before confirmation, amid strong suspicion of avian influenza H5N8, and a 3km protection zone and 10km surveillance zone put in place.

The H5N8 strain has now been confirmed at a poultry farm in Lincolnshire, and at the premises in Carmarthenshire, and the same strain has also been found in wild birds in England, Scotland and Wales.

Risks to public health are very low and avian flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

Gatherings of poultry have been banned across the UK as a precaution, and all poultry keepers have been told to continue to keep a close watch on the health of their birds, and put in place a high level of biosecurity precautions.

Members of the public are encouraged to report dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), or other dead wild birds such as gulls or birds of prey, to the DEFRA helpline on 03459 33 55 77. DEFRA will collect some of these birds and test them to help it understand how the disease is distributed geographically and in different types of bird.