Bird flu outbreak confirmed among chickens on Scottish farm

Health officials say avian influenzas pose ‘very low food safety risk’ after cases found in Orkney

Adam Forrest
Friday 18 December 2020 11:19 GMT
Chickens tested positive for H5N8 strain of the Avian Influenza
Chickens tested positive for H5N8 strain of the Avian Influenza (AFP)

An outbreak of bird flu has been confirmed in a free-range flock of chickens from a farm on a Scottish island.

The Scottish government said the remaining birds at the premises in Sanday on the island of Orkney have been culled and a six-mile temporary control zone has been set up to prevent further spread.

The H5N8 strain of the Avian Influenza was discovered after birds in a free-range laying flock of chickens tested positive for the disease.

Health officials said appropriate restrictions have been imposed at the farm itself and other contact premises on the island – and made clear that avian influenzas pose a “very low food safety risk”.

A range of different controls are now in place on Orkney, including restrictions on the movement of poultry, carcasses, eggs, used poultry litter and manure and curbs on bird gatherings.

“This case of H5N8 in a flock of birds on Sanday confirms that avian influenza is present in Scotland,” said Scotland’s chief veterinary officer, Sheila Voas.

“We have already made clear that all bird keepers – whether major businesses or small keepers with just a few birds – must ensure that their biosecurity is up to scratch to protect their birds from disease and prevent any contact between their birds and wild birds.”  

Ms Voas said any keepers of birds concerned about the health of their flock should seek veterinary advice immediately. The chief veterinary officer also said any dead wild swans, geese, ducks or gulls, falcons should be reported to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.

“Public health advice is that the risk to human health from the virus is very low and food standards bodies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers,” she added. “It does not affect the consumption of poultry products including eggs.”

Scotland’s rural affairs and natural environment minister, Mairi Gougeon, said: “With the recent disease confirmations in wild and captive birds in the UK, it is not unexpected for avian influenza to be found in birds here in Scotland. We ask that the public remain vigilant and report any findings of dead wild birds.”

Avian influenza H5N8 was confirmed in poultry and captive birds at a farm near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire last month.

The chief veterinary officers for England, Scotland and Wales agreed that bird keepers must keep their flocks indoors and follow biosecurity measures as of 14 December. The measures, to reduce the risk of transmission of bird flu, will remain in force until further notice.

One farmer, co-owner of Leicestershire-based egg producer Sunrise Poultry Farms, said he has given his chickens footballs to play with while they are stuck indoors during the bird flu lockdown.

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