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Poots introduces housing order in fight against Avian Influenza

NEW housing measures have been introduced in Northern Ireland as part of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone as of Monday, November 29.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots announced the decision to introduce a housing order in NI following confirmation by DAERA officials of the presence of Avian Influenza in two wild birds retrieved from the Belfast Waterworks site last week.

Seventeen cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 have already been confirmed across Great Britain (GB), as well as one case in a commercial turkey flock in County Monaghan.

Disease control zones have been put in place around all infected premises to mitigate against onward disease spread.

Under the new housing measures all bird keepers in NI are legally required to keep their birds indoors or otherwise separate from wild birds and follow strict biosecurity measures. This applies to owners of pet birds, commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard or hobby flock.

Announcing the decision to introduce a housing order, Mr Poots said: “I took the decision to introduce the new housing measures in order to try to prevent an incursion of avian influenza into the poultry flock in Northern Ireland. It is now a legal requirement for all poultry and captive bird keepers to keep their birds housed or otherwise separate from wild birds. This decision was based on sound expert advice and in consultation with industry.

“This decision to house is an additional step to the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) introduced on the 17th November and another necessary precautionary measure requiring all bird keepers to keep their birds housed. These housing measures build on the strengthened biosecurity measures that were brought in as part of the AIPZ.

“Since my decision to introduce the housing order, we have now discovered avian flu in two wild birds in Belfast – that tells us unequivocally that the disease is already here and in our wild bird population. Keeping it out of the commercial flocks is now down to our poultry sector and the measures they take to keep the disease out. Adhering to, and constant review of, all biosecurity measures is the best weapon we have to avoid an incursion.

“My officials will continue to liaise closely with stakeholders and colleagues in GB and the ROI as the situation develops.”

Commenting on the step, the Ulster Farmers’ Union encouraged all poultry keepers to comply with the new measures.

Deputy president William Irvine said: “With the risk of infection rising greatly, DAERA are now putting new housing measures in place at the end of this month. This is a critical decision to protect the NI poultry industry.

“I would like to remind members that it is a legal requirement to comply with the new housing measures that are to come into effect in the coming days. This means that all flocks, including commercial and backyard birds, must be housed. Failure to do so may result in enforced action being taken. I also urge all poultry keepers to review their biosecurity measures and business continuity plans immediately to protect their own flock.”

To assist all bird keepers in complying with the new rules DAERA has developed a biosecurity self-assessment tool which is available on its website.

If avian influenza were to enter the NI flock it would have a significant and devastating impact on the poultry industry, international trade and the wider economy.

Poultry and captive bird keepers are advised to be vigilant for any signs of disease in their birds and any wild birds, and seek prompt advice from their vet if they have any concerns.

The UFU encourages producers to implement several heightened biosecurity protocols and to avail of DAERA’s services.

Mr Irvine added: “To reduce the risk of infection in poultry, maintaining high levels of biosecurity and practicing good farm hygiene at all times is essential.

“It is important that poultry keepers make use of all the help and services that are available to them to protect their poultry business.

“I urge producers to make themselves familiar with DAERA’s guidance on good biosecurity and there is a text alert service which they can sign up to.

n To subscribe to the text alert service text BIRDS to 67300. DAERA has also developed a biosecurity self-assessment tool on its website to assist all bird keepers in complying with the new rules.

n If producers have any suspicion of disease in their flock they should contact their vet or local divisional veterinary office immediately.

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