Every poultry keeper in the UK and Northern Ireland has been told they must follow the avian influenza lockdown rules or risk the disease decimating the egg and meat sectors.
The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) has warned that action is needed from all poultry keepers in order to avoid a disaster. There have been nearly 300 cases of avian influenza in wild birds but so far strict biosecurity has limited cases at commercial premises to just 21.
The organisation has had many reports of small flocks and back-garden poultry keepers not following their legal obligation under the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) to house them to prevent contact with wild birds – the source of the virus spread.
The association is reminding all smallholders with 50 or more birds that they are legally required to register them with DEFRA so that they can be contacted during an outbreak of avian influenza and prevent further spread, even if only kept as pets. Those with fewer than 50 birds are also encouraged to register.
Restrictions have been in place since 14 December for all poultry, including chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, partridges, quails, guinea fowl, pheasants and pigeons bred for meat, to be housed indoors.
BFREPA CEO Robert Gooch said: “I am deeply concerned to hear reports of poultry seen outdoors during the most serious outbreak of avian influenza we have ever experienced. Farmers have been committed to strict biosecurity rules since the beginning of the current lockdown and have helped prevent further outbreaks.
“As we tackle the spread of avian influenza, it is imperative that all poultry owners – large and small – are keeping their birds indoors. It is not an ideal situation but necessary as we all play our part in minimising the spread of this devastating disease.”
BFREPA is concerned that a number of families who purchased and re-homed chickens for their gardens while spending more time at home due to lockdown restrictions may not be aware of their legal obligation.
“Not all families will have heard about the housing order or indeed about the outbreak, so it’s essential that we continue getting the message across loud and clear,” Gooch said.
BFREPA has produced an AI Prevention Flyer which is free to access and download from the association’s website.
“For those simply ignoring the law, I have to stress that spreading the disease is increasing the likelihood of whole flocks of birds being culled – an option no one wants to see come to fruition and an outcome that can be prevented,” said Gooch.
Failure to follow the AIPZ rules and house birds could lead to a prison sentence of up to six months and an unlimited fine.