Avian Influenza. The two words can strike fear into many poultry professionals. The popular press will of course focus on the H5N1 strain, but there are many other types, which can present problems to the industry.
What do we mean by that? Well of course the loss of a flock is a tragedy for all involved but it can have a devastating impact on farmers whose flocks are unaffected too. Compartmentalisation is an industry solution which tries to alleviate some of the problems caused by restrictions to intenational trade that arise once a case of Avian Influenza is confirmed in a country.
What is compartmentalisation?
Essentially, compartmentalisation is the recognition by, in the case of Aviagen Ltd, the UK government that its farms reach such a high standard of biosecurity that, if there is an outbreak of Avian Influenza, or Newcastle Disease, in the UK, Aviagen birds can still be exported and the receiving country can be confident that the flock will be free from the viruses.
In 2004, the World Animal Health Organisation (the OIE - which is the organisation that sets out the rules for international trade of live animals) recognised the problem and devised a new set of principles for international trade, based on a company’s biosecurity rather than its geographic location.
That is the key element. It recognises that, because there has been an outbreak in one area of a country, trade should still be allowed to proceed based on the biosecurity of the farming operation.
So why is it needed?
Without compartmentalisation, an incident of Avian Influenza in one region of the UK would result in restrictions to the poultry trade from the entire UK to many countries around the world. This has been the traditional approach to disease outbreaks in many countries, ie to use geographical boundaries as a way to mitigate risk, without recognition of the differences I levels of biosecurity within a country. The industry recognised this problem and is taking action. A ban on exports has a catastrophic effect on a farmer’s business and also damages the primary breeder.
In an age of austerity, management of working capital and running as efficiently as possible are vital. Farmers invest a great deal of time and money in their business and need to be sure that they can rely on supply at all times.
What does the process involve?
Aviagen was the first company in the world to reach compartmentalisation status and it was a hard journey, facilitated by a large number of staff. To qualify, Aviagen has been recognised as having met a number of strict biosecurity standards, including shower-in facilities, full record keeping of all staff and vehicle movements, and disease surveillance protocols.
Regular inspections are carried out by specially trained veterinarians from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA), which then reports to Animal Health and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for final approval. The UK now has a team of government veterinarians certified to audit facilities that want to have a compartment recognised.
The inspections are rigorous with a large volume of paperwork involved to make sure that all requirements are met. This provides trading partners with more confidence in Aviagen’s security of supply.
So where are we?
All of Aviagen’s pedigree farms and facilities in the UK have been recognised by DEFRA as a compartment, and the company is going through the same process with its Great Grand Parent and Grand Parent farms and facilities. Compartmentalisation offers a mechanism for governments to recognise high standards of biosecurity. This should allow us, and any other recognised company, to continue exporting UK eggs and chicks to customers around the world in the event of another disease outbreak.
The UK has been outbreak free since the compartmentalisation was recognised, but it will be up to the receiving countries to determine whether they accept the shipments.