Avian influenza roundtables – what's happened so far

24 February 2023

An image of an avian influenza control measure zone sign at the side of a road

On 1 February NFU chief poultry adviser Aimee Mahony attended the sixth AI roundtable meeting with Lord Benyon, the Minister responsible for the brief on biosecurity. Here she shares an overview of this latest meeting and the progress the cross industry and government group has made so far.

Following pressure from the NFU, Defra held an AI summit on 27 October 2022 in London. Attendees included Biosecurity Minister Lord Benyon and Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss, BPC, BEIC and BFREPA.

NFU President Minette Batters attended along with NFU Poultry Board chair James Mottershead and a small number of NFU members, each representing the different poultry sectors. This summit kick-started a series of AI roundtable meetings chaired by Lord Benyon.

While the subsequent meetings have been attended by a smaller number of people, key areas of the industry have continued to be represented and six meetings have now taken place in total.

The Chief Executive of the APHA, David Holdsworth, has been a key contributor to the meetings, updating the group on the activities of the APHA including culling and disposal, valuation and compensation and licensing.

The CVO, Christine Middlemiss, provides an overview of case numbers and at the latest meeting reiterated the importance of stringent biosecurity measures which can significantly reduce the risk of disease incursion in comparison to housing birds as a measure taken by itself.

Use this photo resource showing good and poor examples of biosecurity practices

Weather warning

The CVO also issued a warning about the predicted change in weather, which at the time of the meeting was expected to bring storms to the UK. This type of weather can prompt the movement and mixing of wild birds and a further risk of floodwater can be a means for disease incursion that all poultry keepers should be aware of.

Impact of strike action

The APHA also spoke about the strike action being taken by some civil servants that was most likely to impact tracings, surveillance, and monitoring work.

David Holdsworth said that licensing would be prioritised during this period and Defra representatives said they would share resources where possible to focus on ongoing work to merge and lift disease control zones, something we have highlighted as needing increased attention due to the knock-on impacts on NFU members who find themselves caught up in the various restriction zones.

Lifting disease control zones

Moving forwards, we’ve been promised sight of better forecasting of the planned surveillance and monitoring work which is required to lift existing Disease Control Zones. We are also expecting to hear imminently further details of a cross industry and government group that is forming a taskforce looking specifically at the issue of AI vaccination.

2023 action plan

Lord Benyon thanked attendees of the meeting for the valuable forum, and he commented that it was one of the most collaborative groups he was involved in. It is a sign of the way the poultry sector operates and a demonstration of the resilience of producers who have been enduring the threat of AI for too long. The minister has committed to putting in place a 2023 action plan on avian influenza, something that is likely to be explored further in future meetings.

For now, he left the meeting in the full knowledge that there is plenty more work to be done and that the focus should be on finding solutions to de-risk businesses through addressing immediate concerns, primarily around compensation, vaccination and insurance.

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