New guidance has been published for veterinary professionals who see wild birds and backyard poultry in practice.
The guidance - jointly developed by the BVA, the British Veterinary Poultry Association (BVPA), the BSAVA and the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) – outlines the clinical signs of avian influenza, how to examine suspected cases, next steps and how to report.
It follows multiple findings of avian influenza in recent weeks and the introduction of new housing measures that require all bird keepers to keep their flocks indoors.
James Russell, BVA senior vice president, said: “The Chief Veterinary Officers have taken swift action in response to several outbreaks in recent weeks, and brought in robust measures to contain the spread of the disease as much as possible.
“Wild birds migrating to the UK from mainland Europe in the winter months can carry the disease and infect other species of bird, so it’s vital that veterinary professionals who may be seeing poultry and wildlife casualties in practice know how to spot the signs and act quickly if presented with suspected cases.”
The latest government update on avian influenza on 3 December confirmed the presence of avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 at a sixth premises in Thirsk, North Yorkshire. The update also confirmed the disease at premises in Staffordshire and Herefordshire.
Liz Mullineaux, BVZS senior vice president, said: “The current avian influenza situation in the UK is rapidly changing on an almost daily basis. This is clearly very difficult for veterinary colleagues in the poultry sector, but also presents some problems for those in general practice working with both backyard poultry and wild birds.
“The joint guidance should provide some useful practical background material for those in practice, as well as links to all the up to date Defra information.”
Glasgow students got hands-on experience with chickens.
A group of veterinary students from the University of Glasgow recently volunteered at a British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT) rehoming day in Denny.
The volunteering trip was set up by the new Association of Avian Medicine (AAM), a chapter of the Association of Avian Veterinarians. Founded by veterinary students at the University of Glasgow, the AAM has around 80 members.
Cameron Clark, co-founder of the AAM and a first year veterinary student, commented on his experience with the BHWT: “It was a great opportunity to not only help with the re-homing but also get hands-on with the birds because at vet school we get little experience handling poultry.
“Plus, all the people there were so knowledgeable about chickens and husbandry that it was great to speak with them and pull on some of the knowledge they had to offer.
“I would love to go on and specialise in poultry or avian veterinary. I’ve had hens since I was nine-years-old, and I was given a few to start off with; I’ve been fascinated ever since.”
Images (C) BHWT
Move follows several confirmed cases across the UK in recent weeks.
New housing measures to protect poultry and captive birds from avian influenza will come into force on Monday (29 November), making it a legal requirement for all bird keepers across the UK to keep their flocks indoors.
The move was agreed by the UK's Chief Veterinary Officers (CVOs) for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland following several confirmed cases across the UK in recent weeks.
The UK’s CVOs are calling on bird keepers to use the coming days to prepare for the housing measures, including steps to safeguard animal welfare, consult their vet and build additional housing where necessary.
Keepers are also being urged to follow strict biosecurity measures to keep their birds safe.
A joint statement issued by the CVOs reads: “We have taken swift action to limit the spread of the disease and are now planning to introduce a legal requirement for all poultry and captive bird keepers to keep their birds housed or otherwise separate from wild birds.
“Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, from Monday 29 November onwards you will be legally required to keep your birds indoors or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds. We have not taken this decision lightly, taking this action now is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”
On Sunday (21 November), housing measures were introduced to parts of Yorkshire after a number of confirmed and suspected cases of H5N1 avian influenza in the area.
The total number of cases of the disease in the UK currently stands at 17.
The British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) is to launch its own Sustainability Policy in the coming weeks, calling for a bespoke on-farm approach to achieve net zero in British farming.
The announcement follows the pledge made by world leaders at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.
In its response, the BCVA ‘broadly welcomes’ the commitment but questions the ‘inevitable commentary that places a disproportionate emphasis on agriculture’s role’.
The response reads: ‘Just 100 companies have been identified as the source of more than 70 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, and there isn’t a farm amongst them.
‘The Carbon Majors report demonstrated that a relatively small set of fossil fuel producers hold the key to turning around the planet’s carbon emissions, yet so many headlines on this subject focus on the impact of agriculture, even though we know that in the UK our farms amount about one-tenth of UK greenhouse gas emissions – and just six per cent if only considering livestock farming.’
It continued: ‘To have conversations about sustainability that can contribute to real change, it is vital that we take an evidence-based approach – one that understands the science and realises that biogenic methane, the kind produced by cattle, is not the same as the methane produced by fossil fuels.’
The BCVA believes that efforts to reduce net-zero should take place on-farm, with a focus on health and welfare, biodiversity, soil health, water management, diffuse pollution, and social, ethical, and economic factors.
'This must be achieved without outsourcing our environmental footprint via imports produced to lower standards, the BCVA said. 'High welfare food production and food security should remain the goal.'
BCVA president, Elizabeth Berry, said: “As farm vets, we are allied to a sector that acts as guardians of the countryside, and our farm clients understand their crucial role in the management of soil, water, nitrogen, and carbon cycles and, in turn, the biodiversity of the UK’s farmland.
“We work alongside our colleagues in UK agriculture to drive increased efficiency in both the dairy and beef sectors by providing preventive healthcare and treatment. We all share a commitment to meet welfare standards, safeguarding public health and creating an environment that meets our needs today without compromising the ability of future generations to thrive.”
The National Egg and Poultry Awards has announced Henry Lamb as Young Farm Vet of the Year.
Henry, who works at Crowshall Veterinary Services in Attleborough, Norfolk, was presented with the award for his contributions to his practice, where he has contributed to reduce antibiotic usage, as well as improved biosecurity and bird welfare, health and production for his clients.
The seven-judge panel commented on Henry's level of experience across his three year career: “He has clearly shown he has worked with colleagues as a team, and has introduced new initiatives in his practice including improving mental health of staff and assisting in sustainability.”
A Royal Veterinary College (RVC) graduate, Henry is an associate veterinary surgeon at Crowshall, and is lead products export vet, as well as a qualified mental health first aider and one of Crowshall sustainability directorate's founding 'green champions'.
Henry has also returned to the RVC to give speeches, and was a finalist for 2020's Young Farm Vet of the Year Award.
The finalists for this years' award are Alex Royden, of Poultry Health Services, and Charlotte Commins, of Slate Hall Veterinary Practice.
National pig and poultry sales manager of Zoetis, who sponsor the award, James Porritt, commented the achievements of all three finalists: “It was great to see the work they have all done recognised at the awards.
“It was fantastic to see Henry win and hope the award spurs him on to continue his bright future in the poultry industry.”
UK farms will trial the method after successful early research by IGFS.
Following an agreement at COP26 where the US and EU pledged to reduce agricultural outputs from ruminant livestock by upwards of 30 per cent by 2030, scientists at Queen's University Belfast's Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) will feed seaweed to farm animals to slash methane by at least 30 per cent.
Early laboratory research done by IGFS has shown promising results when feeding ruminants native Irish and UK seaweeds, which are rich in active compounds called phlorotannins, which are antibacterial and improve immunity, potentially carrying additional health benefits for the animals.
Trials of feeding ruminants seaweeds sourced from the Irish and North Sea are about to begin on UK farms, with one three-year project working in partnership with UK supermarket Morrisons and its network of British beef farmers, who will facilitate farm trials.
IGFS, along with the Agrifood and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), who is also partnering on the Morrisons project, is also involved in an international project worth $2 billion, which monitors the effect of seaweed in the diet of pasture-based livestock.
Sharon Huws, Professor of Animal Science and Microbiology and IGFS lead, said that she expected the combined research to evidence a reduction in GHG emissions of at least 30 per cent: “The science is there. It’s simply a matter of providing the necessary data and then implementing it.
“Using seaweed is a natural, sustainable way of reducing emissions and has great potential to be scaled up. There is no reason why we can’t be farming seaweed – this would also protect the biodiversity of our shorelines.
“If UK farmers are to meet a zero-carbon model, we really need to start putting this kind of research into practice. I hope IGFS and AFBI research can soon provide the necessary data and reassurance for governments to take forward.”
Image (C) Wolfgang Hasselmann
The VMD’s latest findings show sales have dropped 52 per cent in six years.
Sales of veterinary antibiotics in the UK have more than halved over the past six years, according to a report published by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).
The 2020 UK-Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance and Sales Surveillance (UK-VARSS) report shows that sales for food-producing animals have fallen 52 per cent since 2014. Furthermore, sales of the Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics (HP-CIAs) in animals have fallen by 79 per cent since 2014.
HP-CIAs, which are crucial for human medicine, only accounted for 0.5 per cent of the total antibiotic sales in 2020. The report also reveals reductions in the pig, chicken, turkey and gamebird sectors since 2019.
According to the VMD, the UK has achieved some of the lowest levels, and biggest reductions, in resistance in livestock across Europe. E. coli carrying resistance genes to HP-CIAs continue to decrease, it said.
“Working closely with the farming industry and the veterinary profession, we have achieved huge reductions in the use of antibiotics since 2014, and we are seeing reductions in resistance as well,” commented Abigail Seager, chief executive of the VMD. “These successes are testament to the cooperation between farmers and vets in promoting the responsible use of antibiotics.”
Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, added: “This year’s VARSS report shows how the UK continues to make important reductions in antibiotic use in livestock across the board.
“It is encouraging to see farmers and vets continuing to work together to tackle antibiotic resistance through the responsible use of antibiotics, which in turn protects human health as well as reducing the burden of disease in animals. We are committed to protecting animal health, and we will continue to work closely with industry and the veterinary profession on this important issue.”
The UK was among those pledging urgent action to protect nature at the conference.
Forty-five governments, including the UK, have pledged urgent action and investment to shift to more sustainable ways of farming at the COP26 Nature and Land-Use Day, which took place on 6 November.
In a press release, the Government said that urgent action on land use is needed as demand for food increases, and that more sustainable practices are required to help farmers adapt and make the UK's food system more resilient for the future.
The commitment includes a pledge to support internationally agreed 'Action Agendas' which outline steps that governments, farmers and others can take through policy reform and innovation, in order to make the necessary changes to food systems to make them sustainable.
As part of the Prime Minister's commitment to spend at least £3 billion of International Climate Finance on nature and biodiversity, the UK intends to launch a new package to help protect five million hectares of rainforests from deforestation, spending £500 million on this.
This funding will create green jobs in both sustainable agriculture and forestry, and will generate £1 billion of green private sector investment to tackle climate change globally.
The UK has also outlined a range of new funding commitments from the £3 billion fund for nature, including an investment of more than £38 million into a new global research initiative.
This will be acheived through the world's leading agricultural research organisation, the CGIAR, which will address the climate crisis and protect nature while also advancing gender equality, poverty, reduction, and food and nutrition security.
At COP26, the UK Government, along with 27 other governments, came together through the Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Roadmap, which was created at the conference to deliver sustainable trade on commodities such as beef, soy, palm oil and cocoa. This roadmap includes support for smallholder farmers, and improves the transparency of supply chains.
Environment secretary George Eustice commented prior to Nature and Land-Use day: “To keep 1.5 degrees alive, we need action from every part of society, including an urgent transformation in the way we manage ecosystems and grow, produce and consume food on a global scale.
“We need to put people, nature and climate at the core of our food systems. The UK government is leading the way through our new agricultural system in England, which will incentivise farmers to farm more sustainably, create space for nature on their land and reduce carbon emissions.
“There needs to be a fair and just transition that protects the livelihoods and food security of millions of people worldwide – with farmers, indigenous people and local communities playing a central role in these plans.”
A more detailed account of the commitments pledged by governments, companies and organisations worldwide on Nature and Lane-Use Day at COP26 can be read here.
The pathogenicity of avian influenza H5N1 in a flock of birds in Scotland's Angus constituency has been established.
The strain was confirmed yesterday as highly pathogenic (HPAI H5N1), and a 3km Protection Zone, 10km Surveillance Zone and 10km Restricted Zone have been put in place around the infected premises.
Those with birds can check where disease control zones are located, and whether they are in a zone, via the Animal and Plant Health Agency interactive map. Further information on the measures that apply in each zone can be found here.
Yesterday (4 November) an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) was introduced across the whole of the UK, following a number of detections of the disease, with bird keepers now legally required to follow strict biosecurity measures.
Restrictions have been placed around the property to limit further spread of the disease.
Avian influenza H5N1 has been identified in a flock of kept birds in Scotland's Angus constituency, the Scottish government has confirmed.
This announcement comes after birds in Worcestershire and Wales were confirmed to have the disease, and since this outbreak was announced, an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has been declared across the UK.
Restrictions have been imposed on the premises, with three and 10 kilometre Temporary Control Zones set up around premises, and the remaining birds at the property will be humanely culled.
Within the Temporary Control Zones, a range of measures have been put in place, including restrictions on the movement of poultry, carcasses, eggs, used poultry litter and manure.
Rural affairs secretary 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.
“Temporary Control Zones have been put in place around the infected premises and we ask that the public remain vigilant and report any findings of dead wild birds.”
Scotland's chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas said: “We are conducting further tests to establish the pathogenicity of avian influenza H5N1 in a flock of birds in the Angus constituency.
“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.
“Keepers who are concerned about the health or welfare of their flock should seek veterinary advice immediately. Private vets, or the local Animal and Plant Health Agency office, will also be able to provide practical advice on keeping birds safe from infection.
“If a single dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), a single dead bird of prey, or five or more dead wild birds of any other species (including gulls) are found at the same place at the same time, this should be reported to Defra’s national helpline. Do not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds.”
All bird keepers are now legally required to follow strict biosecurity measures.
An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has been introduced across the whole of the United Kingdom following a number of detections of the disease in wild birds.
The measure, declared by the UK’s chief veterinary officers on Wednesday (3 November), means that all bird keepers are now legally required to follow strict biosecurity measures to protect their flocks.
Under the AIPZ, keepers with more than 500 birds must restrict access on their sites to non-essential people, workers will be required to change footwear and clothing before entering bird enclosures, and site vehicles will need to be regularly cleaned and disinfected.
Keepers of backyard chickens, ducks and geese must also now take steps to limit the spread of the disease to poultry and other captive birds.
The introduction of the AIPZ comes after avian flu was identified in captive birds in England, Wales and most recently, Scotland. Wild birds at various sites across the UK have also tested positive for the disease.
A joint statement issued by the Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland and Wales said: “Following a number of detections of avian influenza in wild birds across Great Britain we have declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone across the whole of Great Britain. This means that all bird keepers must take action now to prevent the disease spreading to poultry and other domestic birds.
“Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, you are now legally required to introduce higher biosecurity standards on your farm or small holding. It is in your interests to do so in order to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.
“The UK health agencies have confirmed that the risk to public health is very low and UK food standards agencies advise that bird flu poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.”
The risk levels for avian flu incursion in wild birds in the UK has been raised from ‘medium’ to ‘high’. For poultry and captive birds, the risk level has been raised from ‘low’ to ‘medium’ at premises where biosecurity is below the required standards.
Keepers are not currently required to house their birds indoors, but Defra states this ‘will be kept under regular review.
Researchers trace outbreak in East Cumbria to a single source.
New research led by the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute has suggested the use of genetic contact tracing to identify the source of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) outbreaks.
The paper, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, comes in response to an increase in bTB rates among wildlife in East Cumbria with no previous infections.
Researchers analysed the DNA of the bacteria that causes the disease taken from badgers and cows that had tested positive. They found that the bacteria were closely related, suggesting that a single herd of cattle was the most likely source of infection.
Scientists believe that routinely monitoring badgers and cows could help in the early management of disease outbreaks. Control measures in England alone cost a staggering £100 million every year.
“This was an unusual outbreak in that we were able to trace the infection to a single source – as close to a smoking gun as you can get,” commented lead investigator Professor Rowland Kao, chair of veterinary epidemiology and data science at the Roslin Institute.
“Badgers are becoming more populous, and farms are becoming bigger and more complex, so the risk of disease spreading from livestock to wild animals will probably persist and even increase as these trends are likely to continue into the future. Our findings are very useful for understanding transmission of TB, and infection spread in general.”
The study used a tracking method that integrated genetic information with spatial locations and contact tracing, which enabled researchers to compare small changes in DNA as it spread from animal to animal.
The team found that the outbreak started with an infected cow brought to a farm from Northern Ireland. The disease passed among cattle, infecting an increasing number of cows, then spread throughout the local badger population before transmitting back to cows in a cycle of infection.
Experts believe the novel approach could be an effective way to model disease spread and may lead to a greater understanding of the transmission of other diseases.
Avian influenza H5N1 has been confirmed in poultry and wild birds at a premises in Wrexham County Borough, Wales.
The Welsh government confirmed that temporary control zones have been imposed around the infected poultry premises. An investigation is now underway, but dead wild birds found in the area have tested positive for the virus and are believed to be the source of the outbreak.
Avian flu has not been identified in Wales since January when the H5N8 strain of the virus was confirmed in pheasants on Anglesey. The announcement comes less than a week after avian flu was confirmed at a wild bird rescue centre in Worcestershire.
Bird keepers are being encouraged to stay vigilant for signs of the disease and to seek prompt advice from their veterinary surgeon if they have any concerns about the health of their animals.
Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Christianne Glossop, said: “Avian Influenza has been found in poultry and wild birds in the Wrexham area. This is further evidence of the need for all keepers of poultry and captive birds to ensure they have the very highest levels of biosecurity in place.
“Public Health Wales has said the risk to the health of the public from Avian Influenza is very low and the Food Standards Agency has made clear it does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.”
A 3km and 10km control zone has been placed around the infected premises.
All birds at a wildbird rescue centre in Worcestershire will be culled following the identification of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza on Tuesday (26 October).
A 3km and 10km temporary control zone has been placed around the infected premises, which does not supply meat, poultry or eggs to the commercial food chain. An investigation is now underway to determine the most likely source of the outbreak.
“We have taken swift action to limit the spread of the disease, and any birds at risk of infection will now be humanely culled,” commented UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss.
“UK Health Security Agency has confirmed that the risk to public health is very low and the Food Standards Agency has said that bird flu poses a very low risk to food safety for UK consumers.”
Earlier this month, the UK’s four chief veterinary officers urged swift action from poultry keepers to reduce the risk of avian influenza this winter. While the UK was recently declared free from avian flu, there have now been 27 outbreaks in poultry and captive birds in the last year and more than 300 outbreaks in wild birds.
“As we move into the higher risk period over winter, bird keepers should pay extra attention to the health of their birds,” Ms Middlemiss continued.
“Anybody who suspects disease should report it to their vet or APHA immediately. The best way to tackle this disease is for poultry keepers to ensure that they have strong biosecurity measures in place.”
Dr Elizabeth Berry has taken over the reins as the new president of the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA).
She was sworn in at BCVA Congress, which took place on 14-16 October 2021. In her speech, Dr Elizabeth Berry praised the outgoing president, Nikki Hopkins: “It is such a privilege to take on this role. It has been an honour to support Nikki in the last few years when she has diligently served our profession during an international crisis.”
She continued: “It is reassuring to know that I’m surrounded by such a talented and dedicated Board – who have all really proven how committed they are to their farm vet colleagues, even during the most challenging times.
“If I have a theme for my year at all it is about teamwork – an essential part of all our lives, whether that is on a personal, daily level on-farm or at a national representative level where this association will be collaborating with our colleagues across the profession for the good of farm animal vets and for our clients, and the welfare of the animals in our care.”
Elizabeth qualified as a vet at Liverpool University in 1986, and has since enjoyed a varied career, including five years in mixed practice and time at the Milk Marketing Board (now Genus) running a mastitis consultancy field service.
She has worked with Animax Ltd since the early 90s, and gained her PhD in bovine mastitis from the Institute for Animal Health (IAH).
Up to 800 overseas butchers will be eligible to apply for temporary visas to help ease the backlog on UK pig farms, the Government has announced.
Under the plans, pork butchers will have until 31 December to apply for visas from the existing allocation in the Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme, allowing them to travel and work in the UK for six months.
The Government said the move is ‘not a long term solution’ and businesses 'must make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce to build a high-wage, high-skill economy, instead of relying on overseas labour.'
It forms part of a package of measures announced by the Government on Thursday (14 October) to ease the growing pressure on the pig sector. The NPA believes that around 6,000 pigs have been culled so far on farms owing to a lack of space.
Reacting to the announcement, NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: "We are so very relieved that the Government has finally released some measures aimed at reducing the significant pig backlog on farms.
"We are working with the processors to understand the impact of these new measures and to determine exactly what will happen now, and how quickly, so that we can give pig farmers some hope and stem the flow of healthy pigs currently having to be culled on farms."
Other measures announced on Thursday include a Government-funded private storage aid scheme in England. The scheme will enable meat processors to store slaughtered pigs for three-six months, so they can be preserved safely and processed at a later date.
The Government has also pledged to work with the pig industry to introduce processing of animals on Saturdays and longer working days where possible.
Defra secretary, George Eustice, said: “A unique range of pressures on the pig sector over recent months such as the impacts of the pandemic and its effect on export markets have led to the temporary package of measures we are announcing today. This is the result of close working with industry to understand how we can support them through this challenging time.”