Commercial poultry producers are being asked to register their flocks on a new database as part of an initiative to step up surveillance of avian flu and improve controls in the event of a possible future outbreak.

DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett said: “This database will allow us to know where poultry farms are and target effort and resources more effectively.”

But while backyard and hobby flocks are to be included in the Northern Ireland list, it was unclear earlier this week whether DEFRA would follow suit in England.

Charles Bourns, chairman of the NFU poultry board, said discussions were still ongoing on the size of flocks to be covered.

But he believed DEFRA should take a similar approach to Northern Ireland.

“Backyard flocks must be part of the database – there is no point leaving them out. In Asia, the current avian influenza problem is in backyard flocks, not large commercial units,” he said.

As concerns about the human implications of avian flu continue, the department of health, the NFU and poultry organisations have issued joint advice to commercial producers on how to protect themselves and their staff in the event of an outbreak.

DEFRA is also making available a one page guide to hobby poultry keepers on basic biosecurity.

As Farmers Weekly went to press on Wednesday (26 October), the EU was still officially free of avian flu.

Secondary test results were still awaited from the dead birds found last week in Greece, though the first tests had come back negative, said EU spokesman Philip Tod.

He added that the H5N1 strain of the disease had now been confirmed in Croatia.

The commission moved earlier this week to ban all imports of live poultry, meat and feathers from that country, in line with bans already in place on Russia, Romania and Turkey.

Meanwhile, France has joined Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Poland in enforcing the housing of free-range poultry in areas where there is a particular risk of contact with migrating birds.

Some 21 departements are affected, mostly near the country’s coastline and eastern borders.

fwnews@rbi.co.uk