Comment: The housing order has been lifted, but the AI risk has not gone away

 By Aimee Mahony, chief poultry advisor, NFU

After three and a half months of keeping birds inside, the news that the government-imposed housing measures are due to be lifted at the end of March was a great relief for many poultry keepers.

For those free-range producers, I know adaptations have been made since the housing element of the AI Prevention Zone came in on the 14 December and the appropriate preparation of range areas is now crucial as flocks prepare to go outside again.

I would like to thank all the poultry keepers who have stuck diligently to the requirements and ensured that their businesses have continued to follow strict biosecurity measures. Biosecurity is key and the Chief Veterinary Officer, Christine Middlemiss, has emphasised this following the latest outbreak risk assessment which shows that the risk of incursion in poultry or captive birds is increased where there are suboptimal biosecurity measures in place.

At the time of writing, we have unfortunately just had two new cases of AI confirmed in Cheshire and Staffordshire. While this is not entirely unexpected, it emphasises the need to remain vigilant and practice enhanced biosecurity as the virus is still present in the environment. Despite these recent cases, indications are that the housing measures will be lifted as planned at 23:59 on the 31 March, subject to no increase in the overall risk level.

I think the main message remains that even once the housing measures are lifted, it does not mean the risk of AI has been removed. 

I would therefore urge you all to keep biosecurity at the forefront of your mind and remain vigilant. This includes prompt reporting of any suspicious clinical signs of disease.

In other news, this month we have also seen further discussion around the Better Chicken Commitment. Two supermarkets in the UK have already committed to implementing its standards and campaigners are urging more to join them.

The NFU’s view on the Better Chicken Commitment remains unchanged. We believe it doesn’t recognise the advancements made in poultry farming, for example the incredible achievement reducing antibiotic usage and the fact that the UK already implements stocking densities far lower than EU requirements. It is crucial that these standards of production are also recognised when considering trade deals, which could allow food to be imported that has been produced to lower standards.

Our view is that it is the quality of animal husbandry and stockmanship that are the greatest factors determining animal health and welfare, not farm size or system of production. It’s crucial this is understood and considered when policy decisions are being made in the future, whether that is in government or retail.


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