Bird Flu Outbreak: Overview of Restrictions & Tips on Contingency Planning for all Farmers in the event of a Crisis

The year 2020 started with an avian flu outbreak and it looks like it will be ending with one.  Avian flu or bird flu is a recurring pathogen for bird producers.  The recent cases have meant an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has been declared across the whole of England, this was effective from 5pm on 11 November 2020.

Additionally, new houseing measures for birds have been announced, these will come into force on the 14 December 2020, mean that it will be a legal requirement for all bird keepers to keep their birds indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures in order to limit the spread of and eradicate the disease.  These housing measures build on the strengthened bio-security regulations that were brought in as part of the AIPZ on 11 November 2020. The AIPZ means all bird keepers (whether they have pet birds, commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard flock) are required by law to take a range of biosecurity precautions.

Public health advice is that the risk to human health from the virus is very low and food standards bodies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers, and it does not affect the consumption of poultry products including eggs.

  • If you keep poultry (including gamebirds or pet birds) or other captive birds, you must act now to reduce the risk of disease in your flock by following the relevant bio-security measures required within the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone.
  • Good biosecurity improves the overall health and productivity of your flock by helping keep out poultry diseases such as avian influenza and limiting the spread of disease in an outbreak.

Summary of AIPZ measures

A summary of these measures is provided below:

All keepers of poultry and other captive birds, including pet birds in the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone must comply with the minimum biosecurity measures as follows (Part 1):

Part 1

Any keeper of poultry (including game birds and pet birds) or other captive birds irrespective of how they are kept, must take appropriate and practicable steps, that can be demonstrated to an inspector on request, to ensure that–

(1) precautions are taken to avoid the transfer of virus contamination between premises, including cleansing and disinfection of equipment, vehicles and footwear. Where there are more than 50 poultry or other captive birds, place foot dip containing Defra-approved poultry disinfectant at strategic points including at the entry and exit of all houses or outdoor areas where birds are kept, and footwear must be cleaned using the dips on entry and exit or alternatively footwear should be changed when moving between bird and non-bird areas;

(2) feed, water and bedding are stored to minimise the risk of virus contamination;

(3) effective vermin control is carried out in any part of the premises where poultry or other captive birds are kept;

(4) the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from the part of the premises where poultry are kept is reduced to only essential movements for looking after their welfare, collecting eggs and feeding;

(5) records are kept (other than in a zoo) of all vehicles that enter any part of the premises where poultry are kept and of all people who come into any direct contact with the poultry.

(6) records of poultry, captive birds and egg movements must be kept and made available to an inspector or veterinary inspector on demand. Records should include:

  • the quantity and description (including species of bird or type of egg) transported or marketed;
  • the date of the movement off the premises;
  • the premises of destination (if known);
  • the name and address of the person to whom ownership or possession is being or has been transferred;

(7) buildings that house the birds are maintained and any defects that allow water ingress or other contamination to enter the building are rectified without undue delay.

Outdoor areas - Where poultry or captive birds have access to outdoor areas, keepers must comply with the requirements of Part 2.

Part 2

Outdoor range areas (all outdoor areas where poultry (including game birds and pet birds) or other captive birds have access) must be fenced to keep birds within the range and must be actively managed by the keeper to ensure that–

(1) the range area is not contaminated with feathers or faecal material from wild birds and take all reasonable steps to remove such contamination that may be present;

(2) access to open or permanent standing water is restricted by fencing off and netting ponds, standing water, or waterlogged land to prevent access by poultry or other captive birds;

(3) there is no direct contact with poultry or other captive birds on other neighbouring premises;

(4) ducks and geese should not be kept in the same pen or building as other poultry species;

(5) feed and water are kept indoors and birds are fed indoors or under a covered area which sufficiently discourages the landing of wild birds and thereby prevent contact by wild birds with their feed or water;

(6) measures are in place to ensure that wild birds are not attracted to areas under the control of the keeper, in the vicinity of the outdoor area, in particular to watercourses, reservoirs, ponds or other standing water;

(7) proactive measures (for example, bird scarers, foils, streamers) are taken to discourage wild birds, in particular gulls and wild waterfowl, from entering the fenced outdoor areas;

(8) any carcases of wild birds are removed from the outdoor fenced range area; and

(9) there is regular cleaning and disinfecting of all concrete walkways, paths and similar surfaces to which poultry or other captive birds or wild birds have access.

All keepers of 500 or more poultry or other captive birds in any part of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone must additionally comply with the enhanced measures in Schedule 2.

Schedule 2

 (1) Any keeper of more than 500 poultry must, in addition to the minimum measures set out in Schedule 1, apply the following enhanced biosecurity measures in these separate parts of the poultry premises–

(a) a poultry (live-bird) part (for example, in the Lion code this area is referred to as the ‘Specific’ area; and in Red Tractor as ‘defined biosecure areas’);

(b) a private (ancillary use) part (for example, in the Lion code this area is referred to as the ‘General’ area; and in Red Tractor as ‘defined biosecure areas’); and

(c) a restricted access (bio-secure barrier) part.

(2) The following measures apply to a poultry (live-bird) part of the premises–

(a) access is restricted to essential authorised personnel only;

(b) keepers must operate effective barrier hygiene, including changing clothing and footwear, before entering and on exit from the live-bird part;

(c) only essential equipment and vehicles are permitted to enter the live-bird part;

(d) the exterior of any vehicles, including fork-lifts and pallet trolleys (particularly wheels and wheel arches) and equipment which enter or leave the live-bird part of the premises must be cleansed and disinfected on both entry and exit; and

(e) thorough cleansing and disinfecting (based on industry best practice) of housing and equipment must be undertaken at the end of a production cycle and before new birds are introduced; and

(f) records must be kept of vehicles and personnel entering and leaving the live-bird part.

(3) The following measures apply to a private (ancillary use) part of the premises–

(a) access is limited to essential personnel only, and full biosecurity practices should be adopted on entry and exit to the part of the premises;

(b) this part of the premises should be fully separated from the live-bird part with a clear demarcation;

(c) waste and fallen stock must be held in appropriately biosecure facilities in this part of the premises with clear separation between both the live-bird part and the restricted access bio-secure barrier part; and

(d) the exterior of any vehicles (focussing on wheels and wheel arches) which enters or leaves the part must be cleansed and disinfected on both entry and exit.

(e) egg producers should ensure the packing, handling and storage of second quality eggs / farm seconds is a managed in a biosecure manner. Egg trays must be cleansed and disinfected before use and records maintained as detailed in Schedule 1 (6).

(4) The following measures apply to the restricted access (bio-secure barrier) part of the premises–

(a) access by the public should be controlled and only essential workers or contractors should enter this bio-secure barrier part; and

(b) non-essential vehicles must not enter this bio-secure barrier part.

(c) Keepers must regularly inspect the fabric and structural integrity of any building used to house poultry for holes and leaks, with particular emphasis on roofs, gutters and downpipes. Any holes and leaks must be repaired without undue delay as many recent cases of avian influenza have been linked to water ingress and flooding.

A crisis of any kind be it via a virus, a contamination or pollution, bacteria, chemical or even radiation may have domestic, European or global repercussions for production, customers and supply chains. (See earlier blog here.)

There are some useful additional tips set out below that may be applied to any crisis situation.

Legislation, guidance and best practice

  • Guidance and best practice can be constantly evolving in a crisis and the bird flu epidemic is a great example of this. Defra has utilised an interactive map and updates on guidance as avian flu cases are recorded.  Also, observe biosecurity and follow the rules. Minimise the number of visitors on your farm and ensure they clean and disinfect on and off your premises. Protect your livestock and your business.
  • Also be aware of the different legislative requirements for different products and labelling.  Not only do different products – eggs versus poultry meat have different legislative requirements attached there are different standards according to the level of claim to be made ie, “free range” versus “free-range – total freedom” birds. Additionally, there are some methods such as allowing birds access to fully netted range areas and complying with all other requirements that might allow the product to still be marketed as “free range” after the legislative 12 weeks "cut off" for birds housed after that time.
  • Farmers and food producers at all stages along the supply chain should ensure they are aware of the legislation and guidance that affects their business. Where supplies are affected it is important that, where necessary, changes to marketing are made and appropriately communicated.

Precautionary and Contingency planning will be critical for all disease outbreak situations:

  • A full Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan should incorporate all major risks and seek to protect against them at vulnerable points within the supply, processing and distribution chain. This should be kept regularly updated to ensure that specific risks are reviewed and that protections and precautions, as far as possible and practical, are included and procedures updated accordingly.
  • Make yourself aware of and familiarise yourself with both the national generic contingency plan and the local contingency plans in your sector held by your local authority
  • A company should have a detailed and up to date crisis management plan, listing key decision makers, experts and responsibilities. This should be regularly reviewed/tested and any recommendations implemented.
  • The crisis management plan should be linked to a business continuity plan. Are there alternative supply locations for key ingredients? Alternative production facilities?
  • Check withdraw/recall insurance policies and terms.
  • Check contractual terms of supply and distribution agreements.
  • keep your livestock records safe. These will be essential and a legal requirement, whether paper-based or computerised, to allow the effective tracing of disease by the authorities and will be needed if movement restrictions and licensing come into effect
  • Health and safety legislation obliges employers to provide a safe as reasonably practicable environment for staff and visitors; suitable risk assessments for employees and other persons affected by the work activities should be carried out and all reasonable precautionary measures implemented.
  • Keep alert for hazards, particularly high risk scenarios and symptoms and be ready to respond according to your assessment of the risk ie, with bird flu poultry keepers are advised to watch for signs of disease, and maintain high levels of biosecurity at all times. If there are any concerns about the health of the poultry, seek prompt advice from veterinary experts.
  • Keep abreast of new developments – legal, scientific and medical that may affect your product / assist you in protecting against risks and so protecting your customers, consumers and employees and ultimately your business/brand.
  • Ensure best welfare conditions for animals. Talk to your veterinary surgeon about preventative health strategies (for example, the pros and cons of vaccination, if applicable.)
  • Follow government guidance and industry best practice.
  • other points to consider:
    • fodder requirements if movement restrictions are in place
    • any restrictions on human movement from infected premises (both family and workers)
    • beware of zoonoses (some animal diseases can infect humans and these are likely to be more prevalent in a disease situation)
  • keep your plans updated as things that may affect them are constantly changing.

As in any crisis, the priority of food safety and quality as well health and safety and the welfare of animals should be maintained.

For more information or for any other queries please contact Jessica Burt LLM, Food & Beverage Lawyer, Email [email protected]

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Every piece of content we create is correct on the date it’s published but please don’t rely on it as legal advice. If you’d like to speak to us about your own legal requirements, please contact one of our expert lawyers.

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