Representatives from the bird industry this week met Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing to discuss the on-going response to the heightened risk of Avian Influenza.

The current Prevention Zone, which is in place until 28 February 2017, applies to all poultry and captive birds in Scotland, and requires keepers to continue to keep their birds indoors, or take appropriate practical steps to keep them separate from wild birds. There is also a GB-wide ban on poultry shows and gatherings. While there have been no cases confirmed in captive birds in Scotland, there have been several cases in England and Wales.

At the meeting on Wednesday, Mr Ewing discussed the current risk of Avian Influenza and options beyond 28 February, including the enforcement of biosecurity measures, with representatives of NFUS, free range egg producers, the British Retail Consortium and the Gamebird and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

He said: “We know this is a difficult time for bird keepers and retailers which is why it’s important we listen to their views on how we can best protect our valuable poultry industry.

“With the current prevention zone expiring later this month and risk levels unlikely to reduce before then, we discussed next steps, and what would be a reasonable and practical approach for the industry.

“We want to protect the economic wellbeing of this industry, as in Scotland, we estimate that organic eggs output was worth about £6 million to agriculture in 2016, with free range worth around £46 million.

“We will provide an update in the next few weeks but in the meantime I would encourage bird keepers to continue to practice and improve, where possible their biosecurity measures.”

Biosecurity steps include:
•       making sure that your birds’ feed and water can’t be accessed by wild birds
•       avoiding transfer of contamination between premises by cleansing and disinfecting equipment, vehicles and footwear
•       reducing the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry or captive birds are kept
•       implementing effective vermin control around buildings where poultry or captive birds are kept
•       providing wash facilities or dips containing approved disinfectant (at the right concentration) at key points such as farm entrances and entrances to bird houses.

Scotland’s Chief Veterinary Officer Sheila Voas also attended the meeting. She said:

“Housing your birds, whether you are a commercial or back yard keeper, is a precautionary step that can reduce the likelihood of infection, but it is not singularly effective at reducing disease risk. It is absolutely vital that all bird keepers take multiple steps to improve their biosecurity to protect their birds from disease. And these steps should include measures which keep outside environments (like ranges and fields) unattractive to wild birds – even while flocks are housed.

“Bird keepers and members of the public should remain vigilant for signs of disease in domestic or wild birds. Keepers who are concerned about the health or welfare of their flock should seek veterinary advice immediately.

“Expert advice remains that consumers should not be concerned about eating eggs or poultry and the threat to public health from the virus is very low.”