Comment: For a successful Christmas free of AI, turkey producers must think biosecurity, biosecurity, biosecurity

By Aimee Mahony, chief poultry advisor, NFU

As Christmas edges closer, families across the country will be thinking about their Christmas arrangements and making sure they’ve ordered their turkey. For farmers, their current priority is focused on getting this centrepiece ready for the most talked about dinner of the year.

Poultry businesses have had several challenges to overcome so far in 2020; in addition to the day-to-day management of their usual production and processing operations. In particular, the impacts of COVID-19, the recruitment of seasonal labour and more recently Avian Influenza.

When we consider the issues surrounding the recruitment of a skilled workforce, we know that we face challenges across the sector in a range of permanent roles. However, the spotlight has more recently been shone on our requirement for labour in the seasonal poultry sector. Lockdown restrictions, not just in the UK but across Europe, quarantine measures and Brexit uncertainty means recruitment has been a real challenge this year.

There has now been a significant breakthrough for the industry as the government granted an exemption from quarantine rules for seasonal poultry workers. This is a real victory and something the NFU lobbied hard for on behalf of members and this move recognises the invaluable role seasonal workers play for hundreds of poultry businesses across the country.

What it means in practice is that workers will not need to quarantine for the 14-day self-isolation period and will be able to work at a designated farm or processing plant. Outside of working and travelling, they must self-isolate in line with local restrictions.

There are many requirements that businesses must meet as part of the exemption and I would encourage seasonal producers to visit NFUonline for more guidance on this, to ensure the run up to Christmas goes as smoothly as possible for all concerned.

Alongside Christmas, the not so cheery side of winter means we are also on high alert for Avian Influenza and we have already seen a number of confirmed cases in both poultry and wild birds in England.

I know from speaking to members that protecting birds from AI is the number one priority for poultry businesses right now and I would urge everyone to keep this up. Biosecurity, biosecurity, biosecurity.

As well as maintaining enhanced biosecurity on your own site, please consider how you can let friends or family members and the wider community know about how they can protect their own birds as well.

As we know, there are many more households with a few chickens in the garden as a result of an increase in lockdown purchases and these people can be hard to reach with key messages surrounding the risk of disease. It may only be a small step but if we each tell only a handful of people it’s a good start and it all contributes to the bigger picture of protecting the national flock.


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