Bird flu outbreak sparks fresh fears about mass-expansion of Suffolk’s poultry industry
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Campaigners fighting the mass-expansion of Suffolk’s intensive poultry industry have said a recent bird flu outbreak should act as a wake up call to authorities.
Public Health England confirmed on December 10 that a chicken farm in Mid Suffolk would need to cull 27,000 birds following an outbreak of the disease.
A 1km restriction zone was put in place around the Athelington farm - although risk to public health was said to be "very low".
People from nearby villages in the district, which already has one of the highest concentrations of intensive poultry farms, said the outbreak showed why authorities needed to take greater control over the industry's growth.
They had joined forces as "Save Our Suffolk Countryside" earlier this year in opposition to proposals for two massive poultry farms in Horham and Southolt.
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Although the plans have since been dropped, the campaigners discovered more bids to expand poultry farms across the district, including Wyverstone, Worlingworth, Heveningham, Brome and Occold.
The expansion is linked to Cranswick's new chicken factory near Eye, which is set to employ 700 people when it opens.
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SOSC has warned the expansion risks damaging the region and leaving it vulnerable to another bird flu outbreak.
A SOSC spokesman said: "This recent outbreak clearly demonstrates the need for authorities to develop a strategy that takes into account the bigger picture before this area becomes overrun with poultry farms."
Mid Suffolk District Council, which has met with the group, said it had created a new panel to look at developments in the poultry industry.
Gerard Brewster, cabinet member for economic growth, said the council needed to balance growth with protecting the environment. He said the new panel had been formed in recognition of the significant role the poultry industry had on the district's economy and included specialist officers, including from the Environment Agency. "We can then use this expertise to map poultry farms in the area and, where possible, associated supply chain businesses, to help inform future planning decisions and ensure any new developments benefit the economy," he added.
Defra said disease could happen with any form of farming and the key is having good biosecurity measures.
Flu outbreak farm responds to concerns
The company that owns the Suffolk farm where an outbreak of bird flu was reported last week has offered assurances about the growth of poultry farming.
James Hook, managing director of PD Hook, said he could understand community concerns about changes to the industry - but added many of the recent applications related to the modernisation of old farms.
PD Hook's farm in Athelington is one of several in Mid Suffolk to have submitted applications for bigger operations in recent months. The company is looking to demolish six old chicken sheds and replace them with four modern barns for up to 40,000 birds.
Mr Hook said the planned redevelopment was still on course for 2021 despite the recent outbreak.
"I can understand people's concerns, because there's a lot going on at the moment," he added. "Ultimately, there will be fewer but better farms that are modern and easier to run."