AI – latest update on vaccine progress and a look back at 2022

23 December 2022

James Mottershead

James Mottershead

NFU Poultry Board chair (West Midlands member)

An image of James Mottershead stood against a blank wall

NFU Poultry Board chair James Mottershead gives an end-of-the-year roundup on activity surrounding AI (Avian Influenza), including an update on vaccine progress and how the NFU has been engaging with MPs to ensure government compensation and restocking remains high on their agenda. 

It has been encouraging to see in recent weeks that the number of AI cases being confirmed has reduced. In fact, the CVO (Chief Veterinary Officer) recently attributed the good biosecurity on poultry farms as a contributory factor to the decreasing number of cases.

I am pleased that our collective efforts have been recognised by Christine Middlemiss and her team. Despite this encouraging picture in recent weeks, it is still devasting that in England we have now reached the same number of AI cases between October and December 2022 as recorded throughout the previous 2021/2022 outbreak year.

Progress on vaccination

At the NFU we continue to meet with policymakers, stakeholders and industry leaders to stress the impact of this devastating disease on both farm businesses and farmers themselves.

I am pleased to start with some positive news by letting you know that we have now received confirmation that one of our key asks on AI vaccination is being pushed forward with a cross government and industry taskforce due to meet in the early part of 2023.

The taskforce will examine the current barriers to vaccination and how these may be overcome, and I look forward to reporting on the progress of this group in the new year.

Potential second peak in cases

This week saw the fifth in a series of AI roundtable meetings which have been hosted by Lord Benyon and frequently attended by the farming minister Mark Spencer MP and the CVO.

These meetings have allowed members – like you and I – to illustrate the impacts of AI on our own businesses and the NFU President Minette Batters alongside the NFU poultry team have also reiterated concerns about the future of food security and wider impacts on the sector.

At this latest meeting the Deputy CVO Richard Irvine provided an update on the plateauing of cases over the past few weeks but warned that there could be a second peak around Christmas time. It is therefore imperative that we all maintain stringent biosecurity measures in order to protect our birds.

Contingency plans

During the latest roundtable, the Chief Executive at the APHA, David Holdsworth, also provided an update on compensation payments and the redeployment of vets from directly dealing with infected premises to completing work within surveillance zones.

This latter move should help with the merging and lifting of Disease Control Zones which I know for many of you means additional work and cost when applying for movement licenses.

David assured us that the APHA are fully resourced to cope with any additional cases over the upcoming festive period and whilst I hope there aren’t any, it is reassuring to hear that contingency plans are in place.

Working with MPs

Just like many of you, I have been keeping my own MP up to date on the evolving situation with AI and he has spoken out in Parliamentary sessions in support of the poultry sector.
I recently attended a Westminster Hall debate on AI and I thought the MPs did an outstanding job picking up many of the points we have all been raising with them, including government compensation and restocking.

I caught up with my MP afterwards and was lucky enough to sit in the public gallery to watch PMQs. It has really demonstrated to me the value of having a relationship with my local MP and the interest he has in helping to defend my business.

In January the National Poultry Board will be in London for our board meeting and in order to make the most of the opportunity we have organised an MP drop-in session in Parliament so that we can continue this vital engagement and ensure MPs are raising the issues that matter most to the poultry sector at every opportunity they have.

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

Legal challenge – how we're supporting members

Sometimes our lobbying work relies on advice from legal professionals and the NFU has its own expert legal team.

A group of NFU members have recently filed a legal challenge against the APHA in an important case about compensation for poultry farmers affected by an AI outbreak on farm.

The NFU has decided to join the case as an Interested Party in support of these members and the wider poultry sector.

This case could have far-reaching implications for other NFU poultry members and that is why the NFU has decided to become an Interested Party in this case, enabling us to submit our own evidence in support of our members.

Reach out if you need help

For many of us in the poultry sector, 2022 has been a challenging year. Please know that the National Poultry Board will continue to work on your behalf as we move into 2023 and whatever the challenges may be.

It’s just as important to look after yourself as it is to look after other people. If you can, reach out to that friend or fellow farmer down the road that you may not have spoken to for a while, I know I appreciate every call I have when someone is just checking in or saying hello – a little moan to each other always helps clear my head – a problem shared is a problem halved.

You have my word that alongside your regional poultry representatives and national policy teams at the NFU, we will continue to do all we can to help you and your business in these critical times ahead.

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