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Limited reassurance over bird flu

Date Published: 09/03/2006

Defra has indicated that organic poultry shut in because of an avian influenza outbreak would be able to retain its organic status.

The announcement follows concerns that birds shut in for longer than 12 weeks would no longer be eligible to be licensed as organic.

Early guidance from Defra and the EU indicated that if the order to shut birds in came, 12 weeks indoors would be the limit for retaining organic status, causing widespread concern for poultry farmers.

As the major certifier of UK organic poultry, Organic Farmers & Growers had expressed grave concern at the threat this posed to livelihoods and the supply of home-produced organic eggs and poultry.

Now Defra has indicated that, subject to other organic regulations and practices being maintained “the UK takes the view that the organic status of poultry flocks would not be affected as a result of measures which operators were required to take under the law to restrict access to open-air runs as a precaution against avian influenza”.

OF&G has welcomed this message but Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, sounded a note of caution regarding the new Defra stance.

He said: “This still somewhat open-ended and is only based on Defra ‘taking a view’. It is still subject to discussion at the EU level and that discussion is making painfully slow progress.

“The member states failed to agree on measures and guidelines in January and put off its next discussion until the end of March. Given that H5N1 avian flu has now been found in a number of EU countries, this is like standing to watch while Rome burns, never mind fiddling!”