THERE was relief for Scottish free range egg producers this week, as it was announced that they will be allowed to let their birds outside at the end of this month, provided they adhere to new biosecurity rules.
Scotland’s current Avian Influenza prevention zone for all poultry and captive birds will remain in force until the end of April, rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing has confirmed – but the requirements of the zone will be amended after February 28, just in time for producers to avoid a marketing clampdown as they exceed the allowed 12 weeks of housing for free range certification.
A GB-wide ban on poultry shows and gatherings also remains in force. While there have been no cases confirmed in domestic poultry or captive birds in Scotland, there have been several cases in England and Wales – despite which Defra is now lifting its general restrictions and targeting only the affected areas.
Mr Ewing said: “We continue to see daily reports of avian flu across Europe, including eight confirmed cases in domestic birds in England and Wales, with Northern Ireland recently confirming their first finding in a wild bird, too. We do not expect the risk of H5N8 to reduce any time soon, which is why we are extending the Prevention Zone until the end of April.
“We will continue to provide updates over the next few weeks but in the meantime I would encourage bird keepers to continue to practice and improve, where possible their biosecurity measures.”
Scotland’s chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas said: “Keepers should start to think about steps they can take now to provide the best biosecurity that they can to protect birds let out on February 28. This could include keeping your range clear of wild birds, and where possible decontaminating the range. You should also discuss your arrangements with your private vet, who will be best placed to provide specific practical advice on reducing the risk of infection.
“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.”
The biosecurity steps to be taken 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.

NFU Scotland poultry policy manager Penny Johnston said: “Free range producers will be nervous about letting their birds back out after 28 February whilst the risk of AI remains.

“However, they now have the option of putting increased biosecurity measures in place over the next few weeks to allow birds back outside.  That has to be set against the potential impact on their business of losing free-range status had a further housing period been required beyond 28 February.

“We welcome Scottish Government’s pragmatic approach and we urge then to keep reassessing the risk of AI to the Scottish poultry industry and the protection measures that need to be in place.”