Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Keeping Chickens at Home - Latest UK Avian Flu News

UK sees no need to confine chickens over bird flu

7th March 2006

By Nigel Hunt

LONDON, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Britain sees no need yet to lock up chickens despite news that deadly bird flu has moved closer to its shores while the vaccination of poultry was "under review" on Monday.

British consumers also reacted calmly to the latest scare with sales of chicken remaining strong, retailers said.

France and Germany have imposed bans on farmers keeping poultry outdoors as an H5N1 strain of bird flu spreads across Europe. Last week the virus reached France, with an infected duck found dead near Lyon.

"If there is another case in France on a migratory route then we would have another look (at keeping chickens indoors)," a spokesman for Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said on Monday.

He added that the case in eastern France was not on a migratory route to Britain.

The spokesman said nine swans found dead in Britain had been tested for the deadly strain but results had been negative.

The H5N1 strain has spread from Asia to Europe and Africa and killed 93 people as well as millions of birds.

Freda Scott-Park, president of the British Veterinary Association, said the decision to continue to allow chickens to be kept outdoors had been taken after a long debate involving industry experts.

"We have to keep our reaction proportionate (to the threat). The trigger point (for imposing a ban) may well be if bird flu moves further west in France or if it arrives in this country," she said.


Virologist Nigel Dimmock of Warwick University saw practical problems in keeping the flock indoors, which meant the government needed to ensure it was absolutely necessary.

"It certainly would help against poultry picking up the virus from wild birds. The question is judging when it is necessary," he said.

Dimmock, who chaired an investigation into Britain's bird flu quarantine arrangements, backed the government strategy in tackling the threat.

"It is not possible to control the forces of nature entirely but I think everybody is on the ball," he said.

France and the Netherlands have been seeking permission from the European Union to vaccinate poultry against the virus and a spokesman for DEFRA said Britain's policy was "under review".

BVA president Scott-Park said there were benefits but the logistical challenges would be "enormous".

She said the British government was, however, seriously considering vaccinating zoo birds, a step that had been taken in other countries.

Dimmock said some vaccines might protect chickens but not necessarily end an infection.

"It is a kind of halfway house which could be the worst of all worlds," he said, adding the virus could then become endemic in British poultry and re-emerge among birds that had not been vaccinated.

The latest bird flu scare had no impact on sales of poultry in Britain, according to leading retailers Tesco and Sainsbury .

"Sales remain strong," a spokeswoman for Tesco said.

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