The Northern Ireland government is extending its avian influenza prevention zone an additional 15 days in an effort to protect poultry from the virus that is striking birds across Europe.
The current prevention zone, which expires at 11.59 p.m. on 16 March, requires all keepers of poultry and other captive birds in Northern Ireland to keep their birds indoors or take all appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds, and to enhance biosecurity.
The new zone, which will be in place from March 17 until at least April 30, provides keepers in all areas of Northern Ireland with the option to let their birds outside, subject to them applying additional biosecurity mitigation measures, according to a press release from the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).
Chief veterinary officer explains new prevention zone
Northern Ireland Chief Veterinary Officer Robert Huey said: “The risk of infection from wild birds will not decrease in the coming weeks. The changes to the new prevention zone are proportionate and place the onus on the keeper to select the best option for their circumstances to protect their birds.
“Poultry keepers will have the option to voluntarily house their birds, and for many this will continue to be the most practical way to comply with the requirements of the zone and minimize the risk of infection, but it will have implications for labelling their produce as free range.
“If they chose to let their birds out, they must ensure compliance with the additional biosecurity mitigation measures.
“The new approach will give keepers options and allow free range production to continue.”
He added that a letter is being sent to all registered bird keepers in Northern Ireland to make them aware of the changing requirements within the prevention zone, and to provide a checklist of steps to take before letting their birds outside on March 17.
“I continue to encourage strongly all bird keepers, to register their flocks. This will ensure they receive the latest information from the department and also allow them to be contacted in an avian disease outbreak enabling them to protect their flock at the earliest opportunity”.
Biosecurity measures stressed
The chief veterinary officer also spoke of the importance of keepers remaining vigilant for signs for the disease and to continue to practice the very highest levels of biosecurity.
“It is essential that bird keepers comply with the biosecurity requirements set out in the declaration of the Prevention Zone, if they are to minimize the risk of infection. Key to this will be ensuring that their birds are separated from wild birds when outside. Avian Influenza is a notifiable disease, and any suspicion should be reported immediately to your local Divisional Veterinary Office,” he said.
There continues to be a ban on gatherings of some species of birds (livestock fairs, auctions, shows or other events) and this applies to those attending with bird species which are considered at higher risk of spreading avian influenza, including all poultry and game bird species, ducks, geese and swans. Gatherings of pigeons, aviary birds and birds of prey can continue to take place.