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Call for clarity on avian flu risks

Date Published: 25/08/2005

Defra must be swift in providing a clear lead on measures which may be necessary to avoid an avian flu outbreak, says a leading organic certifier.

Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) is deeply concerned that timely advice and early planning is crucial as Britain and Northern Ireland’s poultry
industry braces itself for the possibility of extreme measures.

Many producers and processors are nervous about whether rulings such as moving birds indoors will be introduced and, if so, what can be done to limit the impact of this.

OF&G inspects and certifies the vast majority of organic eggs and poultry in the UK.

It’s Business Manager, Richard Jacobs, said: “The uncertainty, while terrible for the whole industry, is undoubtedly worse for organic and free-range producers. Not only would they face the same problems as their non-organic counterparts, as things stand today their hard-earned organic or free-range status would be in doubt.

“The organic standards state that birds must have access to the outdoors, weather permitting. We need to know, sooner rather than later, whether that organic status will be protected should we be forced to
shut birds in their sheds. If not, a whole sector of the industry could be devastated.”

OF&G also believes that it would be the responsible thing for Defra to begin early consideration of what compensation measures would be necessary if extreme action was to be taken.

Mr Jacobs added: “If there’s even an outside likelihood of damage to producers it would be wise for a compensation structure to be discussed and agreed before it’s needed, with a mechanism in place for businesses to access it quickly. Otherwise we run the very real risk of a knee-jerk or very slow response.

“People are having visions of their entire livelihoods disappearing and it’s only fair to give them some reassurance. We also need to know that
the most rigorous surveillance programme is in place as an early warning system.”