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Emergency bird flu plans for organic farmers

Date Published: 22/02/2006

Emergency plans are being drawn-up by a leading organic body in a bid to keep poultry farmers in business if bird flu strikes the UK.

Organic Farmers & Growers, which inspects and licenses the majority of the country’s organic eggs and poultry, has announced a scheme to keep the certification system working even if inspectors are not allowed on to farms.

By law all organic food must be certified as such and inspectors must visit and scrutinise farms and other premises annually before a license to sell organic food can be issued.

Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) has put a proposal before Defra to employ an inspection questionnaire for farmers whose certification is due to expire but whose premises are sealed off or otherwise unreachable.

Licensees will be able to fill-in the questionnaire and declaration, which will then be assessed by OF&G Certification Officers. As soon as restrictions are lifted an inspector will be sent on to the property for a full inspection to confirm the self-declaration.

OF&G Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, explained: “Poultry farmers will have enough headaches dealing with the threat or arrival of bird flu without having to worry that their organic status will lapse.

“We are still in the position that the EU has not made a decision on protecting the organic status of birds that have to be shut inside. We believe they will be able to retain their organic status for up to 12 weeks, but this has still not been officially ratified or confirmed.

“As the certification body responsible for the vast majority of UK eggs and poultry we want to do all we can to keep our licensees in business. Ensuring their hard-won organic status does not lapse for want of a physical inspection is an important part of that. At the same time consumers must be able to remain confident that the organic standards are being rigorously upheld.”

He added: “The UK’s organic poultry and egg industry has built up over a long time. We must do all we can to prevent it being destroyed by an outbreak or measures caused by fear of an outbreak.”

The certification questionnaire system will operate in a similar fashion to the assessment method employed during the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak, using lessons learned from that experience.