By Mark Williams, chief executive, British Poultry Council
Whilst we are not seeing multiple cases of H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza each night, as we were in October/November last year, the threat from this particular virus remains. At the time of writing there have been 206 cases since 1st October 2022. Scotland is currently feeling the pressure with new cases being confirmed, mostly in game birds and back yarks flocks, brought about by the infection in wild birds. As we move into autumn we are going to face further challenges from this particular virus, therefore everyone involved in every part of the British egg industry must pay attention to biosecurity at all costs.
The BEIC is continuing to engage with the UK Government on the issue of vaccination against Avian Influenza. The joint industry / government AI vaccination task force continues to meet regularly with a report to be shortly drafted for presentation to the government’s Avian Disease Policy Group. Among other points, we will be emphasising the following in the report: the need for suitable vaccines against AI; which can be easily administered; cost-effective surveillance; and avoiding trade barrier being put up against our exports of breeding stock poultry and eggs. As previously reported, the cost of surveillance is currently incredibly high and will effectively mean it won’t happen for most sectors.
The European Commission has asked the European Food Safety Authority to provide a report on surveillance by the end of March 2024. This is timed to report on how the French have implemented their surveillance programme once they start to vaccinate their mule ducks in October. The reason why the EU position is so important is that the UK is to follow the EU delegated act, which has set such a high bar on surveillance.
It is important to remember that biosecurity remains the best defence against AI, however, vaccination can play an important role. We will continue to work with the government to help overcome the obstacles to vaccination and we will also keep a close eye on developments with AI vaccination within the EU as it will be important for the UK to influence the debate within the EU wherever possible, given the trade implications it may have for British agriculture and farming’s biggest market, the Single Market.
In terms of international trade, the BEIC has highlighted to the government’s Animal Sentience Committee the importance of animal standards in international trade agreements are vital to ensure ‘fair trade’ and not ‘free trade’. We have given the same message and the same indisputable evidence that we have previously provided to government in our response to the Trade and Agriculture Committee and numerous parliamentary committee inquiries. The evidence we submitted has set out in no uncertain terms how the Government’s choice to not include eggs and egg products as ‘sensitive’ in the CPTPP agreement will have potentially catastrophic effects for the British egg industry. The government’s current approach to trade agreements leaves the fact that what they say about animal welfare standards being important in serious doubt.