Bird flu outbreak prompts cull at Suffolk poultry factory

Broiler chickens in a UK factory elsewhere.

Broiler chickens in a UK factory elsewhere. - Credit: PA

A cull of 23,000 birds at a poultry site in north Suffolk is taking place following the first outbreak of bird flu in East Anglia since the latest scare.

A 10km Temporary Control Zone has been put up around the broiler chicken site near Redgrave in Mid Suffolk, where a number of birds had already died, after a laboratory test identified H5N8 influenza in the flock.

The UK’s deputy chief veterinary officer has announced a 3km Zone A and a 10km Zone B around the site. The controls in the zones are equivalent to those which would apply in the 3km Protection Zone and the 10km Surveillance Zone around a confirmed case.

Production at another unconnected poultry site nearby has ceased until further notice as a precautionary measure.

Public Health England says the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency is clear that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

Richard Griffiths, British Poultry Council chief executive said it was “worrying times”, but added: “We and DEFRA (the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) are doing everything we can to stamp out bird flu in the UK.”

This was the ninth outbreak in the UK since bird flu reached the UK from mainland Europe, and outdoor UK flocks were ordered indoors in December to try to prevent its spread from migrating birds.

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“We talk about biosecurity, but in this case, biosecurity can never be 100%. It’s one of those things - everyone does their best to adopt biosecurity precautions.”

Although the disease was discovered in indoor birds at the Suffolk site “the possibilities were almost endless” on how it might have been brought in to the birds, he said.

How things developed would be dictated by whether the outbreak at Redgrave turned out to be a high pathogenic - indicating a more virulent form the disease which was easily spread - or a low pathogenic outbreak of the disease, which would indicate a disease which is “pretty much endemic” and not of concern, he said.

Duck specialists Gressingham Foods, which has its headquarters at Debach, near Woodbridge, but operates close to the affected site, has put out a statement to reassure its customers that it is not the affected farm.

“We would like to reassure all our customers that this farm is not operated by Gressingham foods, our birds are in good health and there are no direct links to our factory or farms,” it said.

“In accordance with guidance from DEFRA, Gressingham Foods has been operating at a heightened level of biosecurity since Autumn 2016 when outbreaks of Avian Influenza were first found in Europe. Since December when AI (Avian Influenza) reached mainland Britain, we have restricted movement between sites and cancelled all non-essential visits.

“Unfortunately, due to the location of the affected farm, the restriction zone extends around our slaughter plant at Redgrave, therefore all bird movements in this area have been temporarily halted with immediate effect.”

As a result of the exclusion zone, all production has transferred to its Debach site, it said, while production at the Redgrave site has ceased until further notice.

“The site near Woodbridge is outside any restricted zone and therefore we can continue to process and supply our duck. During a brief period of transition there may be some disruption in supply and we will keep all customers informed of their order status on a day to day basis.

“We repeat that our birds are healthy and unaffected by the outbreak, and we have no immediate issues with the supply of ducks to our Debach site during this difficult time.”

National Farmers’ Union East Anglia adviser John Newton, who leads on poultry issues, said: “This is concerning news for poultry farmers in East Anglia, who have been living with the threat of bird flu for several months, including the requirement to house all birds. Poultry farming is a hugely important farming sector for our region, producing about one quarter of England’s table chicken and generating sales of £670m at the farmgate.

“A 10km temporary control zone has been set up around the premises while investigations continue and we will be liaising with APHA as the situation unfolds. Our priority is to help our members within this zone to minimise any impact on their businesses.”

The NFU had a dedicated area on its website. www.nfuonline.com, for information on avian influenza.