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Poultry keepers urged to plan early for flu defences

Date Published: 09/11/2005

Defra has urged all poultry producers to come up with plans to move birds indoors at short notice if an outbreak of H5N1 is suspected or proved in the UK.

Chief Vet, Debby Reynolds, has told the industry that birds should be closed in their sheds with urgency if it became necessary. If shutting in was not possible or practical, then ‘reasonable’ measures to minimise contact with wild birds should be in place.

Despite this, leading certification body Organic Farmers & Growers is concerned that the organic sector still has no clear guidance on whether flocks which had to be kept indoors would retain their organic status.

Defra said a call to close birds in could come while any suspected outbreak was investigated.

Organic Farmers & Growers is calling on the Government to clarify the position for organic producers urgently, to avoid any confusion should a sudden call come for birds to be shut in.

OF&G Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, said: “By this late stage in the planning we should have an unequivocal answer. Do birds maintain their organic status if they come inside?

“There are livelihoods at stake here of people who have already been through enough. We have a serious concern that if we lose status for UK flocks retailers will go elsewhere. If they do that will they come back to UK suppliers when we get the all-clear? If not, the industry could be decimated.”

In a statement released by Defra regarding planning for an outbreak, Dr Reynolds said: “Defra has its own contingency plans which we will activate immediately should a case be confirmed in the UK. We keep those plans constantly under review to meet the changing threat, and we are amending them in light of this latest risk assessment.

“We also recognise the challenge that organic and free range producers would face if their birds needed to be housed indoors. We are working with the European Commission to find ways of protecting the status of their products if that were to happen.”