POULTRY farmers who may become complacent with measures designed to protect their birds from bird flu risk losing flocks to the disease, the government’s chief veterinarian warns.
Christine Middlemess said those caring for animals such as chickens, geese or ducks risk ‘walking the virus around their farms’ if they fail to adhere to restrictions in place to tackle the biggest outbreak bird flu in the UK.
With 100 cases reported since November, the government introduced strict biosecurity measures late last year for those handling captive birds.
The ruling meant that anyone keeping chickens, ducks, geese or other birds had to keep them indoors by law for the past three months to prevent them from mixing with people. migratory wild birds which are the main culprits in the spread of the virus.
People can also spread the disease on clothing and shoes, so strict washing and disinfecting procedures are in place for caretakers to follow – while it is also advised to limit the number of people and vehicles moving around sites where captive birds and poultry are kept.
With the current rules now in place since the end of November, chief vet Ms Middlemess is worried about complacency.
She said: “We have taken swift action to limit the spread of the disease, including introducing housing measures. However, we are still seeing a number of cases of bird flu on commercial farms and in low-bass birds. -court all over the country.
“Many poultry farmers have excellent biosecurity standards, but the number of cases we are seeing suggests that not enough is being done to ward off bird flu. Whether you keep a few birds or thousands, you need to take action now to protect your birds from this infectious disease.
“The bird flu epidemic has not gone away and the implementation of scrupulous biosecurity remains absolutely essential. You must continue to regularly clean and disinfect your shoes and clothing before entering the enclosures, prevent your birds to mingle with wild birds and only allow strictly necessary visitors. Your actions will help keep your birds safe.”
Public health advice remains that the risk to human health from the virus is very low and food standards bodies say bird flu also poses a very low food safety risk to humans. But people are however being told not to touch or pick up any dead or sick birds they might find and to report them to the government’s dedicated helpline.
Current legal measures are to remain in place “until further notice”, the government says, but are regularly reviewed as part of ongoing efforts to protect herds this winter.
All bird keepers are also urged to monitor their animals closely for any signs of illness or poor health and to maintain good biosecurity at all times.
If you find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should report them to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77. Those who suspect cases of bird flu in their captive flocks should call 03000 200 301 as soon as possible.