Gas cannisters© Jason Bye/REX

The culling of layers at the Lancashire egg farm infected with H7N7 highly pathogenic avian influenza has been completed, Defra has confirmed.

The four-day operation, which involved removing thousands of birds from cages as well as free-range accommodation, was wound up on Wednesday (15 July).

The next stage is primary cleansing and disinfection at the Staveley’s Eggs’ unit to the north-east of Preston, followed by a secondary deep clean – a process that is likely to take several weeks.

See also: Lancs bird flu confirmed as highly pathogenic H7N7

Information submitted by Defra to the OIE – the France-based organisation for global animal health – in Paris on Wednesday (15 July) reveals that the mortality caused by the H7N7 virus on the 170,000-bird farm was far higher than previously understood.

Initial reports suggested that mortality had reached 20% in some of the free-range flocks (50,000 birds), but was nearer 5% in the colony unit (120,000 birds).

That would have implied about 16,000 deaths and more than 150,000 culls.

But the OIE statement reveals that 36,000 birds on the unit had already perished, equivalent to 21.18% mortality.

That left another 134,000 to destroy in containerised gassing units – birds which will qualify for compensation.

The statement also says that the source of the outbreak is “unknown”.

Trade issues

Following official notification of the outbreak, a number of third-country markets have closed their doors to UK poultry.

Key buyer, South Africa, was swift to re-impose a countrywide ban on all live poultry and poultrymeat, produced after 15 June (21 days before the start of the avian influenza event).

Containers en route are likely to be rejected.

Similar bans are expected from Japan and South Korea, while Hong Kong has accepted regionalisation and is only banning product from the county of Lancashire.

Northern Ireland, with its large poultry sector, also suspended its general licence for the import of live poultry, poultrymeat, poultry products and hatching eggs from Great Britain on Tuesday (14 July).

“Anyone wishing to import these should apply to the department of agriculture for a specific licence,” said agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill.

Licences

Meanwhile, Defra has continued to make both general and specific licences available, appropriate to risk, to facilitate egg and poultry movements into and out of the 10km surveillance zone around Goosnargh.

Currently, general licences are available for:

• Movement of table eggs to designated egg-packing centre

• Movement of mammals from or to premises in the protection or surveillance zones

Specific licences, which have to be applied for from APHA, provide for:

• Movement of poultry into the protection and surveillance zone for slaughter at a designated slaughterhouse

• Movement of day-old chicks from a hatchery within the surveillance zone

• Movement of poultry to slaughter from a premises in the protection and surveillance zones

• Movement of hatching eggs from the surveillance zone to a designated hatchery

• Movement of hatching eggs from the surveillance zone to a designated premises for scientific, diagnostic, pharmaceutical purposes