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Official vet: news and updates

Bird keepers urged to prepare for winter avian flu threat

08 January 2020, at 9:00am

The Chief Veterinary Officers across the UK are encouraging all poultry keepers to take action now to reduce the risk of disease in their birds over the winter. There are some simple measures that all poultry keepers should take to protect their birds against the threat of avian influenza (bird flu) in the coming winter months.

These include keeping the area where birds live clean and tidy, controlling rats and mice and regularly disinfecting any hard surfaces, cleaning footwear before and after visits, placing birds’ feed and water in fully enclosed areas that are protected from wild birds, and removing any spilled feed regularly, putting fencing around outdoor areas where birds are allowed and limiting their access to ponds or areas visited by wild waterfowl and, where possible, avoiding keeping ducks and geese with other poultry species.

A joint statement by the four Chief Veterinary Officers in the UK today, said: “Avian flu is a constant threat to all poultry, and with winter approaching there will be an increasing risk of disease incursion from migrating birds. It is therefore important that all keepers of poultry, including game birds and pet birds, act now to reduce the risk of transmission of avian flu to their flocks. Good robust biosecurity should be maintained at all times, including regularly cleaning and disinfecting the area where you keep birds and separating them from wild birds wherever possible.”

All bird keepers should also register their birds on the Great Britain Poultry Register (GBPR). If you have 50 or more birds, this is a legal requirement. Keepers with fewer than 50 birds are also strongly encouraged to register. In Northern Ireland there is a legal requirement for all bird keepers to register their birds on the DAERA Bird Register. Registering your birds means the government can contact you in case of any outbreaks and provide information on the steps to take to limit the chances of your birds contracting disease.

Whilst there have been no findings in wild birds in the UK since June 2018, the virus is still circulating around the world both in wild birds and domestic poultry. So, it is important to take action to improve biosecurity.

The government continues to monitor for incursions of avian flu and is working with the poultry and game bird industries, hen rehoming and pure and traditional poultry breeds stakeholders to help prevent incursions.

Avian influenza is a notifiable disease. If it is suspected, it must be reported immediately to the relevant officials

OV briefings

New type of APHA-approved TB unit in England – Approved Finishing Unit (Enhanced) with grazing

As part of their bovine TB control strategy in the High Risk Area (HRA), Defra has worked closely with the National Farmers Union (NFU) to develop an alternative approved TB unit to replace AFUs with grazing in badger control areas, preserving outlets for TB-restricted cattle.

Approved Finishing Units (Enhanced) with grazing (AFUE) are only approved in the HRA of England. Operators of these are able to source cattle from single or multiple TB-restricted and officially TB free (OTF) herds for rearing, fattening and finishing with grazing.

AFUEs must source and rear/finish cattle in defined batches. The operator is responsible for deciding what constitutes a batch and must keep appropriate records, ensuring that batches of animals undergo the required TB testing before being allowed out to graze on the unit. It is important that OVs record the batch on the test chart so that TB testing requirements can be audited.

Operators of AFUEs will need to work with their private vet (PVS) or OV at their own cost to develop a written contingency plan in the event of a TB breakdown in the unit, and a written biosecurity protocol.

Template documents are available online and once completed will need to be approved by APHA as part of the application process and before approval for the unit can be issued. Further information is available TB Hub's website and gov.uk.

An update regarding the issuing of Animal Health Certificates

As the government has now reached an agreement with the EU on a three-month Brexit extension, the UK will leave the EU on 31 January 2020, with an option to leave earlier if a deal is ratified.

Until then, pets can travel to and from the EU under current pet travel rules using their EU pet passport. Therefore, OVs should halt issuing animal health certificates (AHCs) until further notice.

If you have already issued AHCs to pet owners for travel on or after 1 November 2019, the AHC will still be valid for entry into the EU for up to 10 days after issue and for four months of onwards travel/re-entry to the UK. However, you may wish to advise affected pet owners that they can continue to use the current EU pet passport until the date the UK leaves the EU.

An update regarding equine movements

During the Brexit extension period up to 31 January 2020, you should continue to move equines as you do now to the EU, using all the current processes and systems in place. There will be no additional checks taking place during this time either in the UK or the EU.

However, it is important that you continue to be aware of what it is that you need to do to get ready for all potential Brexit scenarios during this period.

Guidance will be updated on gov.uk to ensure you can stay up to date with what you need to know and actions that you will need to take.