Poultry farmer in bird flu zone wants lockdown order enforced immediately

Traditional Norfolk Poultry director Mark Gorton with some of his firm's free-range turkeys. Picture

Mark Gorton is a director of Traditional Norfolk Poultry, which is based within the 3km "protection zone" enforced around a nearby bird flu outbreak at Snetterton - Credit: Chris Hill

A poultry farmer neighbouring one of Norfolk's two bird flu outbreaks says a government order requiring all free-range flocks to be kept indoors should now be enforced immediately to stop the virus spreading.

A highly-pathogenic strain of avian influenza was confirmed this weekend at farms, one near Attleborough and one near King's Lynn, prompting the cull of around 55,000 turkeys in the run-up to Christmas.

Mark Gorton is a director of Traditional Norfolk Poultry, based in Shropham, which is within the 3km "protection zone" enforced around the nearby outbreak site at North Farm in Snetterton, near Attleborough.

Protection Zone and Surveillance Zone for Norfolk bird flu outbreak December 2020

A 3km Protection Zone and 10km Surveillance Zone have been put in place around a turkey farm near Attleborough where an outbreak of bird flu was confirmed on December 4. - Credit: Defra

Although his birds are not infected, he said he must now comply with a "huge extra load of legislation and licences" for birds being moved into the firm's processing factory during its busiest time of year.

From December 14, all poultry across the country - including free-range and back-yard flocks - will be required to be kept indoors under a mandatory housing order announced by chief vets on Friday in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease.

Mr Gorton said "we'll never know" if the Norfolk outbreaks could have been prevented if the housing order was implemented earlier. But he said, unless the order is changed urgently, commercial poultry keepers cannot voluntarily bring birds indoors before December 14 because they could potentially lose their free range status.

"We have got specialist marketing terms that mean they have got to spend half their life outside, and unless there is a government order to over-rule that you are in breach of your terms," he said. "I don't think it will be very difficult to change the wording to say birds need to be in by December 14, rather than from December 14.

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"I understand why people need a little time to make the changes. But I just think this housing order should be changed so poultry keeper can house their birds between now and December 14 if they can.

"We are at all times responsible for the maximum welfare of the birds outside, but the whole reason they are doing this is to protect birds from bird flu, so why not do it sooner?"

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A Defra spokesman said: "Generally, introducing new measures with no notice would likely lead to reduced compliance and effectiveness of the new regulations.

"We also like to provide advance warning on animal welfare grounds. For instance, to provide enough time for those affected to increase the amount of time their birds spend indoors over a few days to reduce stress, or to source additional enrichment for housed birds as well as the basics, such as extra bedding and litter.  

"We take all of these issues into account when making these decisions, and we urge flock keepers of all types and sizes to prepare in advance."

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