john reedJohn Reed © Richard Stanton

Poultry industry organisations are pooling their knowledge to identify key lessons learned from the recent avian influenza outbreaks in the UK.

British Poultry Council chairman John Reed, who is co-ordinating the effort, said the aim was to improve the sector’s response for when the virus strikes again. He will also draw on input from the British Egg Industry Council and the NFU.

“The situation in America just shows how seriously we should be taking this threat,” said Mr Reed. “We got lucky last time, with just two isolated outbreaks. But we know that AI can happen anytime, any when, anywhere.”

See also: Defra raises bird flu risk level

While the government and industry response had been fairly effective following the East Yorkshire case last November and the Hampshire case in February, there was still room for improvement.

“We have identified three broad areas which we want to take back to Defra, saying these are our concerns and these are our suggested solutions.”

The three areas are:

  • Housing free-range birds as soon as there is an outbreak
  • Improving the effectiveness of culling
  • Speeding up secondary cleansing and disinfection

On housing, Mr Reed said the meat sector was as vulnerable as the egg sector in the autumn, as there were many birds outdoors in the run-up to Christmas. Isolating them from wild birds in the initial stages of an outbreak was a sensible precaution.

Culling was another priority. “It took a lot of resource to deal with just two cases – one of 7,000 birds and one of 10,000. God knows what we would do if we had more cases or larger flocks.”

There was also room for improvement in cleaning up after an outbreak. “The whole industry is put on hold, as we can’t get back to normal until three months after secondary disinfection is completed,” he said. “The breeding sector was especially hard hit by this.”

Mr Reed said it was best to present a united front to Defra, so as to be in better shape come the next migrating season this autumn.