Managing the risks of an avian influenza outbreak

23 December 2020 - Elizabeth Nichols

In the past fortnight the H5N8 strain of avian influenza has been found in flocks of turkeys and ducks on poultry farms in Norfolk. Ed Nottingham, Insurance Director looks at ways that poultry producers can prepare themselves to handle a potential outbreak.

Avian influenza is not an unusual occurrence at this time of year. The disease is carried by wild birds migrating to Britain and has appeared this year in a number of sites across the UK, from as far north as Yorkshire through East Anglia and all the way down to Kent. A national prevention order was declared by DEFRA in November, meaning producers are now following strict biosecurity measures, and from December 14 all poultry flocks including free range birds have to be kept indoors to keep them separate from potentially infectious wild birds.

It is clearly a time for producers to be particularly vigilant, many will be looking at the prevention measures they have on their farm and assessing what contingency plans are in place should the worst happen. So how can you prepare?
BFREPA Insurance Policy
Insurance is essential. If you are a member of BFREPA (British Free Range Egg Producers Association) you will already be covered as part of your membership in the scheme that was put together by BFREPA and Scrutton Bland, in order to offer some insurance against the risks posed by AI and Newcastle Disease, focusing particularly on the costs of secondary cleansing and disinfection.
All BFREPA members can benefit from the scheme which can provide up to £50,000 worth of cover per producer in the event of DEFRA ordering a slaughter, however there is a total limit of £1million, so it is available on a first come first served basis.

Individual Insurance Policies
Whilst the BFREPA policy is an important line of defence, free range and other poultry producers should not just rely it to the exclusion of other covers. ‘It does not replace individual polices,’ says Ed. ‘Insurance is very much elective, and varies on a farm to farm basis. People will only insure against what they believe their business cannot stand, so farmers need to consider exactly what they want to insure against, and at what point they want their policy to be triggered.’

‘For example,’ he says. ‘A trigger could be a notification of slaughter from DEFRA, but there are others, such as when your farm is placed under suspicion of having AI. That brings things forward in terms of time. H5 and H7 are the two strains which require slaughter but there are many non-notifiable strains which makes the process of claiming very difficult when your trigger is notification to slaughter.’
‘What is most important is that the current situation should not be taken lightly, and poultry producers should be taking extra measures to prevent the spread of AI.’
What else should poultry producers be doing?
‘Right now the priority for poultry producers has to be to keep their premises safe and secure,’ advises Ed. ‘The only vehicles that should be currently coming onto the farm premises are the lorries delivering feed and collecting eggs. It is difficult on farms where this is not the only business going on, but you should look at the way the farm is set up so that these lorries are the only things that can get near the poultry sheds. Be thorough in cleaning the area where the lorry is unloaded and the pallets that come with it. There is no telling where these lorries have been’.

He also stresses the dangers of wet areas, ‘AI can stay in water for two to three months. If there are wild bird faeces in puddles and surface water then you can transfer the virus from it. It is important to clean your boots frequently, because it is often people that are carrying it around. They pick it up, take it into their car, and drive it onto another premises’.

It is also important to have a contingency plan ready, in case of a possible outbreak. BFREPA members will be given a workbook written with the assistance of Livetec, and which aims to help poultry producers to set up procedures and protocols, so that for example secondary cleansing and disinfection systems are in place and ready to be signed off by the Animal Health and Environment Agency. 

Ed is keen to stress that insurance policies are not a magic answer to the risks of AI. ‘Poultry producers need to manage the risks of infection through practical measures, and work with their insurers to set up an appropriate policy for their business.’  

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