Organic poultry farmers may suffer if bird flu spreads

Scientists yesterday urged farmers to move free-range poultry indoors to prevent the spread of bird flu. The call contradicts government advice, which is that such a move should only take place after an outbreak in this country has been confirmed.
The department of environment, food and rural affairs yesterday sent out its guidance after the first case of avian flu was confirmed in France.
Farmers have been told they have 24 hours to move flocks indoors when the first case is discovered here.
But experts said only drastic pre-emptive action will stop the virus spreading like wildfire through the national flock. “The time to do this is now,” said professor Peter Openshaw of Imperial College, one of the country’s leading bird flu experts.
“We need a combination of vaccination programmes for birds that are of high value or pets, combined with action to move all mass-produced birds inside.
“But if bird flu is not here already it will be within weeks, so this is the time to take action.”
Another leading scientist yesterday joined the call for poultry to be moved inside. Professor Joe Brownlie of the Royal Veterinary College said it was important for people to be cautious but not hysterical about the threat from bird flu. He said to vaccinate the entire domestic stock would be premature because the current vaccine is not highly effective.
However, he did advise that where possible chickens and other poultry should be moved inside where it can be done humanely and there is room in buildings to keep them comfortably.
Professor Brownlie said where chickens couldn’t be kept inside, they should be monitored carefully outside until a solution is found. He said it was not necessary to slaughter large numbers of chickens simply because they cannot be housed inside.
Up to 15 per cent of the estimated 200 million birds on British farms are classified as free range. More than £52 million organic table birds, £17 million organic eggs and at least £136 million free-range eggs were sold last year.
The Soil Association and the British Free Range Egg Producers Association have warned ministers that putting birds under cover would be “disproportionate to the risk”.
In London, experts at the Barnes Wetland Centre have stepped up monitoring of birds there for signs of illness. It is believed the pochard duck, a common visitor to the centre, is the most likely to bring the virus here. “Our wardens are making several rounds a day to check birds, and we are also co-ordinating the UK surveillance network for birds carrying avian flu,” said Ruth Cromie of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust. “The pochard is found in large numbers in Barnes, so we will be keeping a close eye on birds for any unusual deaths, and would urge people to be vigilant too.”
Bird flu tests on nine dead swans have proved negative but the Tower of London’s ravens have been moved indoors to protect them.

Leave a Reply