AQO 2814/17-22 – Avian Influenza Prevention Zone

Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for an update on the operation of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone.

Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs: The Avian Influenza outbreak across the British Isles has been ongoing for 34 days now since the first confirmation in a swan rescue centre in Worcestershire. As of yesterday there have been 24 cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 confirmed across Great Britain.

In addition, HPAI H5N1 has been confirmed on two commercial poultry holdings in County Monaghan. My officials have been assisting their colleagues in the Republic of Ireland with the depopulation of these sites, which is now complete, providing both equipment and practical assistance.

Restrictions and disease control zones have been put in place around all of the infected premises to limit the spread of disease.

There have been eight suspect avian influenza cases reported in Northern Ireland however, following thorough veterinary investigations, all have been negated.

In addition, there have been over 180 confirmed cases of HPAI H5N1 detected in wild birds across Great Britain. The Republic of Ireland has also reported over 50 cases of HPAI H5N1 in wild birds at eight locations. In Northern Ireland, my veterinary officials have confirmed the presence of HPAI H5N1 in five wild birds retrieved from Belfast Waterworks, the Harbour Estate in Belfast and Monlough Lake near Carryduff.

As a result of the recent findings and in the light of the risk to the Northern Ireland poultry flock I approved the introduction of an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across Northern Ireland from 17 November 2021, with colleagues in the Republic of Ireland introducing similar measures simultaneously. Officials in Great Britain had implemented a Prevention Zone on 3 November 2021.

The stringent, mandatory biosecurity measures in the AIPZ include; a ban on bird gatherings, a requirement that poultry or other captive birds are provided with food and water to which wild birds have no access, and mandatory rules on cleansing and disinfection.

Furthermore, given the evolving situation, the substantial increase in HPAI cases across Great Britain, the confirmed HPAI cases in County Monaghan and the wild bird findings here, I took the decision to introduce a mandatory housing order which came into effect today. This further disease prevention measure will legally require birds to be housed or otherwise kept separate from wild birds. This decision aligns with a housing order also introduced across the UK today and the housing order which came into force in the Republic of Ireland on Monday 22 November.

The effectiveness of the AIPZ results from the mandatory requirement for bird keepers to implement the biosecurity measures set out under the terms of the AIPZ. Scientific reviews have indicated that effective biosecurity could result in a major reduction in the risk of an outbreak.

Since the first confirmed case in Great Britain, my officials have undertaken frequent engagement and communications with local industry to heighten awareness and deliver key messages on how to protect the Northern Ireland poultry flock from an avian influenza incursion. My officials have developed a biosecurity self-assessment tool which is available on the DAERA website, along with guidance to assist all bird keepers to review, enhance and maintain robust biosecurity measures to protect their birds and also to comply with the legal requirements of the AIPZ.

If avian influenza were to enter our Northern Ireland flock, it would have a significant impact on our poultry industry, international trade and the wider economy. Also the negative financial and emotional impact on the individual farm family and business is something we have witnessed all too often with disease incursions and we all must do everything we can to avoid this occurring.

The AIPZ will remain in place until the risk of incursion reduces. Veterinary officials will keep these conditions under regular review in collaboration with industry stakeholders. The need for excellent biosecurity to prevent an incursion will continue to be highlighted by my Department as a crucial way to protect the national flock.