Following a number of detections of avian influenza in Great Britain last year, the Chief Veterinary Officers from England, Scotland, and Wales declared an Aviation Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across the whole of Great Britain to mitigate the risk of the disease spreading among poultry and captive birds.
Since Wednesday 3 November 2021, it is a legal requirement for all bird keepers in Great Britain to follow strict biosecurity measures to help protect their birds. On 29 November 2021, housing measures came into force across the UK, requiring bird keepers across the UK to keep their birds indoors.
These mandatory housing measures were lifted on 2 May 2022. Poultry and other captive birds will no longer need to be housed, unless they are in a Protection Zone, and will be allowed to be kept outside. While the risk of bird flu has been reduced to ‘medium’ for premises with poor biosecurity, the enhanced biosecurity requirements that were brought in as part of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) will remain in force as infection may still be circulating in the environment for several more weeks. All poultry gatherings are still banned. I know that those who intend to allow their birds outside are advised to prepare outside areas for the release of birds, including cleansing and disinfecting hard surfaces, fencing off ponds or standing water, as well as reintroducing wild bird deterrents.
The UK Health Security Agency confirmed a case of avian influenza in a person in England in January. I understand that bird-to-human transmission of avian flu is very rare and that this person became infected from very close, regular contact with a large number of infected birds. I am assured that all contacts of the individual were traced and there was no evidence of onward spread of the infection to anyone else.
The risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency advises that there is no food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.
As birds reared for eggs have had to be kept indoors since November, I understand that the 16-week period allowed for free-range eggs has been exceeded, and they can therefore no longer be labelled “free-range”. Eggs sold in shops must now carry a sticker or label saying that they are “barn eggs”.
I understand that the AIPZ will remain in place until risk levels change. If you are a bird keeper, you should remain alert for any signs of disease, report suspected disease immediately and ensure that you are maintaining good biosecurity. You should also remain familiar with the Government's avian flu advice. More information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu