Avian influenza (bird flu) mainly affects birds. It can also affect humans and other mammals. Bird flu remains in the headlines and it is important that all industries affected have precautionary measures in place, this is particularly important for those poultry producers and processers and any food business connected with them.
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.
Precautionary and planning measures that should be considered are as follows:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Follow government guidance and industry best practice.
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. Also 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.
Not least, there is also now Defra’s current move away from blanket guidance to an ‘interactive map’ of higher risk and lower risk areas, to be reviewed at the end of April 2017.
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 and check this regularly. Where supplies are affected it is important that, where necessary, changes to marketing are made and appropriately communicated.
As in any crisis, the priority of food safety and quality as well health and safety and the welfare of animals should be maintained.