Free range poultry farmers are being told to make emergency preparations to house millions of free range birds should DEFRA order them inside over fears of avian flu.

The Guardian reports that the NFU’s advice, sent to poultry farmers across the UK, is likely to anger the Soil Association which believes that there is no need to cause alarm by bringing birds inside for what could be an indefinite period of time.

“We need to be constantly monitoring the situation, but at the moment we don’t believe bringing birds in is appropriate,” the Soil Association’s Robin Maynard told the paper.

“You have a situation where you are being told avian flu could reach her in a year, or five or ten.  Do farmers have to keep poultry inside all that time?  If you do this you would be destroying the most successful part of the farming sector – the growth of free range and organic,” he added.

The news comes as Customs officials at Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester airports were requested by DEFAR to step up efforts to detect illegally imported food giving special attention to baggage from Turkey and Romania.

The UK has already put in place measures to detect any suspected cases.  But Peter Cranswick of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust – which is carrying out the tests – told the paper it was like “trying to find a needle in a haystack”.