Millions of free-range chickens and other birds will have to be kept indoors from December 14, in the context of a crackdown by the national government to limit the spread of a virulent strain of avian flu in Britain.
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) said in a statement that the chief veterinarians of England, Scotland and Wales had agreed to the new legal requirement for all bird keepers to bring in their flocks, to keep them separate from possible contagious wild birds.
The restriction, which has already been introduced in the Netherlands, applies not only to large commercial poultry farms but also to smaller keepers with chickens in garden pens. Bird watchers are urged to use the next 11 days to prepare for the new measures, including taking steps to ensure animal welfare, consulting their veterinarian and installing additional housing or nets as needed.
Eggs can be placed on the market and labeled “free-range” for a further 16 weeks after the birds are brought in, but if restrictions last longer, they should be labeled “free-range eggs” instead. Likewise, poultry meat can be labeled free-range for 12 weeks.
On Sunday, all 10,500 turkeys on a North Yorkshire farm in Northallerton were culled after an outbreak was spotted on Saturday, while a temporary 3km and 10km control zone was established to stop the spread of the disease. About 13,500 birds were culled earlier this month following confirmation of an outbreak of avian flu at a commercial farm in Helsby, near Frodsham in Cheshire.
Defra reiterated that the risk of the virus to human health and food safety was “very low”.
British and European farmers have been alert to outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza among wild and domestic birds in western Russia and Kazakhstan. Wild birds migrating from mainland Europe during the winter period can spread the disease to poultry and other captive birds.
In a joint statement, Britain’s top three veterinarians said: “We have taken swift action to limit the spread of the disease and now intend to introduce a legal requirement for bird keepers to keep their birds housed or otherwise separated. to love wild birds. We have not made this decision lightly, but it is the best way to protect your birds from this highly contagious disease. “