To assist the UK poultry industry adjust to avian flu, better communication and collaboration are required along the whole supply chain.
Additionally, in order to increase the pace of decision-making and subsequent measures, disease control strategies must be flexible enough to respond to new scientific facts. This will guarantee that all parties are informed of the most recent developments.
These were some of the main takeaways from a recent study written by the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of Edinburgh and the Centre of Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL).
Better risk communication is required.
Professor Lisa Boden, the report’s author, stated that the desk review study and stakeholder interviews had demonstrated the need for the sector to more effectively communicate risk to a variety of stakeholders, including the supply chain, the rural economy, backyard flock owners, and the poultry industry.
The study is released at a time when the UK is dealing with a case outbreak. In addition to a significant number of seabirds being impacted, there have been 176 documented instances in poultry since October 2022 (149 in England, 21 in Scotland, 5 in Wales, and 1 in Northern Ireland).
As a response, the government has implemented a number of strict biosecurity measures, including as the Housing Order, which requires that birds be kept indoors, revisions to the compensation system, and the exploration of non-vaccination options. In Italy, France, and the Netherlands, vaccine studies are ongoing and closely watched.
An information gap
In order to effectively communicate and manage risk, Boden argued that it was crucial to pinpoint the key control points in the poultry sector.
She also said that discussions with farmers revealed a knowledge gap in some sectors of the business on what happens during an epidemic and the need for farmers to report suspect cases to the Animal Health and Plant Agency (AHPA).
The research emphasises some of the industry’s most pressing problems, including some less well-known ones, such as the serious mental health problems that farmers face. Farm biosecurity practises vary, and there are disparities in knowledge of industry and governmental guidelines and standards, especially among backyard flock owners. As part of its consultation on adding every keeper of birds to the Poultry Register, the government is attempting to remedy issue.
In a briefing for the poultry media, Boden stated that the research had shown issues with the development of the vaccine, particularly with regard to performance, frequency of use, whether it would match the type of bird flu that was now circulating, and how to distinguish diseased birds from those that had been vaccinated. The sector was considered as needing to know whether a particular vaccine will be used to eliminate or lower the prevalence of the virus before investing in clinical studies and developing a strategy around it.
Biosecurity is unpredictable.
The large degree of variation in biosecurity implementation throughout the sector as a result of various risk perceptions and varying levels of understanding of rules and advice, according to Dr. Mark Young, head of innovation at CIEL, is a cause for worry.
“Strict biosecurity is needed on all types of holding for the disease’s future containment, and vigilance and early disease detection have to be shared responsibility for poultry producers regardless of holding size or production system.”
The report’s commissioning was heavily influenced by the requirement for a clear and succinct overview of the UK’s present bird flu situation, according to Phil Bicknell, director of CIEL: “Science and innovation were important to how we effectively live with the risk of bird flu. The development of vaccines, improvements in genome sequencing, and new technology to facilitate the quick discovery of the disease might all aid in the management of this illness.
To guarantee that all outbreaks are managed swiftly and effectively, government support will continue to be needed and should be improved.