An outbreak of avian influenza has been confirmed in a flock of indoor turkeys in south Lincolnshire, marking the first case in a commercial unit since the start of the bird flu “season” on 1 October.
The premises is near Donington, just inland from The Wash, and a 3km Protection Zone and 10km Surveillance Zone have been set up to limit movements on and off farms in the area, to try to contain the disease.
The outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the disease follows a single case in Scotland on 23 October, at Strichen, near Fraserburgh, although that outbreak was in a small backyard flock of just 15 chickens.
Prior to that, there were two outbreaks in commercial flocks England in September and two in Scotland. These are all now closed cases and restrictions have been lifted.
The improving situation with avian influenza has been welcomed by farmers and vets alike.
Speaking at the Egg and Poultry Industry Conference in Newport, South Wales earlier this week, UK chief vet Christine Middlemiss said last year there had been 104 cases between the start of October and the first week of November.
The industry had lived through “torrid times”, but the combined efforts of the Animal and Plant Health Agency and the whole poultry industry had brought things under control.
She said work was continuing on vaccine development, but even though the official risk level of avian influenza from wild birds had recently been downgraded from “high” to “medium”, with autumn migrations still under way, maintaining strict biosecurity was still the number one priority.
NFU president Minette Batters told the conference it was essential that government introduced a housing order as soon as possible when the risk justified it.
She also called for Defra to push ahead with a consultation to remove the 16-week housing period, after which free-range birds lose their free-range status, “otherwise, we will face an unfair marketing position with European product coming into this country”.
Legislation has just been passed in the EU which allows, in the event of disease restrictions, indefinite housing of free-range birds without any loss of status.
Defra farming minster Mark Spencer said he wanted to introduce this consultation as soon as possible, but had run into difficulties as he wanted to launch it on a GB-wide basis, rather than just for England.