By Paul Hyland and Tom Crosby
Farmers have joined health and veterinary institutions in downplaying the dangers of a bird flu outbreak in Scotland.
The Scottish Government has urged farmers to be vigilant after the outbreak of bird flu in England.
The newly discovered H5 strain of avian influenza was found in East Yorkshire earlier this week, joining a glut of international cases in The Netherlands, Germany and South Korea.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has commented following the confirmation of a case of avian influenza on a duck breeding farm in Nafferton near Driffield.
He said: “The Scottish Government is closely monitoring the case of avian influenza on a duck breeding farm in East Yorkshire, and I note the immediate and robust response by the authorities in England to prevent any potential spread of infection.
“My officials have been liaising closely with the Defra who have made it clear the public health risk is very low – and that they have ruled out the H5N1 strain that is infectious for humans. Furthermore, the latest Food Standards Agency advice is that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.
“Although avian influenza has been confirmed in England only, I urge Scottish poultry producers to stay vigilant for any signs of disease – and my officials have this afternoon updated industry representatives and other key stakeholders with the latest information and veterinary advice.
A spokeswoman for the Foods Standards Agency (FSA) in Scotland also described the risk as “pretty low” and that the disease didn’t “pose a risk to food safety.”
This was mirrored by The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Veterinary Poultry Association (BVPA) mirrored the FSA’s.
In a press release they said: “the risk to public health is very low and there is no risk to the food chain. We would also point out that the strain of flu has been identified as H5 avian flu and NOT the more serious H5N1, which has caused disease in some people.
Bob Carruth, Communications Director with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland said: “It tends to be with poultry flocks, whether their flocks are producing eggs, or whether their flocks are for the table, farmers tend to keep a very close eye on these birds anyway, so it’s just a matter of keeping a good look at the birds.
“If there are birds that are showing signs of being ill or groups of birds that suddenly stop laying eggs, that kind of thing, its to make sure you take the time to have these animals tested to see what the problem might be.”
He also noted that farmers were well equipped to deal with any potential outbreak.
He said: “Most poultry units have very good levels of bio security on the farm anyway so they are very careful about who they allow onto the farm. Those who do come onto the farm whether they are working with the birds or whether they are, say, bringing on supplies do tend to go through disinfection methods anyway so vehicles and boots will all be disinfected when people come onto the farm.
“What Scottish farmers will be doing is be watching very closely the situation in East Yorkshire. Obviously they are aware that there was cases in the Netherlands and a case in Germany..it’s maybe linked into migratory birds, there’s always a higher risk this time of year because it’s a time when birds are migrating.
“So we’ll wait and see the outcome of the testing in East Yorkshire, they are obviously doing monitoring within 3km… and in Scotland there is concern but we’ll wait and see what the outcome of that testing in Yorkshire is, and certainly we would ask Scottish poultry keepers to keep a very close eye on their birds in the next few days.”
Prof. Paul Digard of the Roslin Insitute, University of Edinburgh, specialises in research surrounding influenza viruses, said the risk was “very low, verging on none”.
With regards to the food chain, he said: “Even if it was a strain of virus that was risky for humans…even if it was H5N1, cooking makes it utterly safe.
“You will not catch bird flu from a boiled egg.”
Scotland’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Sheila Voas, said:
“As always, all poultry keepers should continue their efforts to maintain high levels of biosecurity and monitor their birds for any signs of disease. Avian influenza is a notifiable disease, and so any suspicion should be reported immediately to the nearest Animal Health office.
“As part of routine wildlife disease surveillance post-mortem examinations of birds are undertaken in incidents where five birds are found dead in the same location and at the same time. Members of the public are asked to report any such incidents by calling the Defra national helpline on 08459 33 55 77. Scottish Government advice is not to handle dead wild birds where possible.”