AI – engaging MPs with sector progression

17 March 2023

James Mottershead

James Mottershead

NFU Poultry Board chair (West Midlands member)

An image of NFU Poultry Chair, James Mottershead

NFU Poultry Board chair James Mottershead gives the latest update on activity surrounding AI (Avian Influenza), including a new update on vaccine progress and how the NFU has been engaging with MPs to ensure progress with AI vaccination and the GB Poultry Register. 

The sheer scale of this current AI outbreak has been astronomical. That is something that shouldn’t be underestimated, and credit was acknowledged to the NFU poultry board and staff team in both Minette’s closing speech and also in the Director General Terry Jones’ AGM speech to members at NFU conference in February.

This is something I endorse entirely as we continue to work on behalf of members to improve the outlook for the future, not only on AI but with so many other challenges that we as producers currently face.

Political engagement intensifies

Our engagement with Lord Benyon has been continuous. At the most recent roundtable meeting we discussed the government’s AI action plan, which is being created to identify how things can be done differently going forwards. This is likely to have a big focus on biosecurity and AI vaccination for poultry.

In January, the national poultry board held a lobbying day in the Houses of Parliament and more than 25 parliamentarians attended the event, including Defra Minister Mark Spencer MP and Shadow Farming Minister Daniel Zeichner.

The follow up from this included well over a dozen written questions specifically on AI related matters submitted by MPs and Peers in Westminster.

Use our AI member letter to MPs template to write to your local MP.

Giving members the power

After meeting members in the North West in January and hearing their honest experiences with AI, I was able to arrange a meeting with Shadow Secretary of State Jim McMahon and members in Preston.

Following this, the shadow minister was left with a greater understanding of the devastating impacts AI has upon poultry farmers. Meetings like this are vital to arm politicians with the information they need when taking part in debates or making crucial decisions.

Stringent biosecurity remains crucial

The downward trend on new cases of AI is welcomed but we must not be complacent with our best line of defence: stringent biosecurity. This was reiterated by the CVO when she spoke at the poultry session at NFU conference towards the end of February.

A key take home message for me was the emphasis she put on key factors like the increased infectivity, greater spread in wild birds, efficient transmission and high survivability - all things that have contributed to the scale of the current outbreak compared to previous years.

At the session, the poultry team in conjunction with the PHQG and APHA launched a biosecurity photobook, which contains images of good biosecurity measures and highlights areas for improvement which every poultry farmer should consider within the realms of their own business.

I urge you to take a look at this valuable resource and constantly review your own biosecurity on farm.

Progress with key ask on AI vaccination

One of the NFU’s key asks is around future strategy and AI vaccination has the potential to play a huge part in that. I’m pleased to report an expert group which is made up of both industry and government representation has been set up to specifically address this point.

The AI vaccination taskforce has already met three times and will be continuing at pace with fortnightly meetings to push forward on the areas that need addressing to bring vaccination for poultry to the table.

At present, it has been made clear is that it is very unlikely that an AI vaccination will be commercially available in the UK this year. Whilst disappointing, it further raises the importance of the taskforce ensuring every avenue is pursued in finding much needed solutions to this dreadful disease.​​​​​​​

NFU lobbying secures consultation on poultry register

Following years of NFU lobbying, Defra launched a consultation on the GB Poultry Register.

This consultation is asking all bird keepers for their views on whether it should be compulsory to register poultry with the APHA regardless of the number of birds that they keep.

The NFU will be gathering feedback from members who wish to input to its response – information on how to have your say can be found here.

Continuing to work on your behalf

Existing Disease Control Zones are an area of constant member engagement. There are still hundreds of zones still in place across the country and the APHA are working hard to complete surveillance and monitoring work which is required to merge and lift them.

We continue to raise priority zones which are having a greater impact on your businesses so please do continue to feed this information through your regional NFU representatives.

As I approach the halfway point through my two-year term, you have my word that I, along with the NFU’s poultry team, will keep on fighting on your behalf.

Until I write again, look after yourselves and remember we are stronger together. There are glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel and we must hold on to those as we move forward from these darker times.

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