Avian influenza control measures to be lifted in the North

The avian influenza (bird flu) prevention zone in Northern Ireland, which is due to expire tomorrow (May 31, 2017) will not be renewed, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has confirmed.

The zone required Northern Irish bird keepers to set up enhanced bio-security measures prior to letting their birds outside, in order to reduce the risk of disease.

The department also announced that the ban on shows and gatherings of poultry, game-birds and waterfowl will also be lifted tomorrow, adding that a new general licence would be put into place in light of the change.

Robert Huey, Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO), commented on the announcement, stating: “This will be welcome news for many keepers who have opted to keep their birds indoors to protect them from a seasonally-increased risk from highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8.

This decision has been made following a recent veterinary risk assessment concluding that the risk of avian influenza incursion to poultry and captive birds in Northern Ireland is low.

“This has been a testing time for all of us, and I would like to thank all bird keepers in Northern Ireland for their co-operation and vigilance. Your positive and committed response has helped us reach this point,” he added.

“It is a relief to see that the risk of HPAI H5N8 in Northern Ireland has reduced, but this does not mean we should be complacent; the risk of avian influenza remains a real and constant threat.

It is essential that bird keepers maintain effective bio-security all year round, not only when a prevention zone is in place.

The CVO elaborated, noting: “All bird keepers should consider maintaining enhanced bio-security practices such as washing boots and equipment with approved disinfectant, implementing effective rodent control, minimising unnecessary visitors and reducing their flock’s contact with wild birds.”

I would also strongly urge poultry keepers to reassess their contingency plans, given the new perspective this season’s outbreaks of H5N8 provides. Practical advice about their specific arrangements should be sought from their private veterinary practice, in consultation with their local Divisional Veterinary Office.

In relation to importing poultry and hatching eggs, racing pigeons, ornamental fowl and captive birds from Britain, the department said that the current licensing set-up will remain in place.

The department issued a reminder to poultry and bird keepers that all who keep birds or poultry must be registered on the system. The department said that this was necessary for quick contact with all keepers in the event of a disease outbreak, enabling them to protect their flocks as soon as possible.