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'Bird flu' (HPAI) - how will this affect the poultry export trade?

Posted by andrewivesonadmin | Posted 15th February 2017 | Blog, and News

For farmers and all producers of food and animal products, there are certain events that may affect their ability to trade on a global scale. Sadly, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI or Bird Flu) is one of these. Since the middle of December 2016, HPAI has been reported in farmed and domesticated poultry in the UK in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, South Wales, Lancashire and Suffolk and in wild birds it has also been reported in many other locations.

H5N8 Strain

There are many strains of HPAI but this is the most significant. If HPAI is seen or suspected, it is compulsory to notify DEFRA. It is a viral disease and can infect birds through contaminated fluids, faeces, or by direct contact. HPAI may lead to the following symptoms:- diarrhoea, swollen head, lack of appetite, discolouration of the neck, fewer eggs, increased mortality, and respiratory distress. According to Public Health England, the risk to the general public is minimal through contact with any affected birds . Furthermore, they advise that even consuming eggs or poultry directly is unlikely to cause any illness in people. All HPAI affected and ‘in-contact’ birds must be slaughtered and cannot enter the food chain. Further information on HPAI can be found here.

Influence on Trade

Although it has minimal risk to human health, it can have a severe impact on the export trade. The whole of Great Britain has been declared a ‘prevention zone’ until the end of February 2017, by DEFRA. Essentially, this brings a whole host of restrictions that must be adhered to including the fact that all poultry need to be kept inside or separate to wild birds, the gathering of birds is banned, and extensive disinfection is now required. After the 28th of February, current advice is that England will merely be subject to extra precautions, however, Scotland and Wales will remain within prevention zones until the end of April at least.

Furthermore, there is also concern from farmers that their ‘free range’ status will be lost if they have to keep all poultry inside after February. If this is lost, it has the potential to rock the entire industry because they will be qualified as ‘barn produced’. Although there have been calls to extend the normal 12-week cut-off put in place, the status will be in danger should this be rejected.

European and worldwide impact

Additionally, we should note that it isn’t just the UK that has been affected by HPAI as the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Austria, Poland, and Switzerland and many other countries have all reported cases. With this in mind, information regarding premises of origin is now pivotal within the industry until the problem goes away and this is causing many issues for export trade.

Export Health Certificates (EHCs)

These are issued by APHA to enable international trade and require the poultry/poultry products to be checked by an official veterinarian (OV), who then signs and stamps the EHC. There are approximately 75 different poultry export health certificates available for countries worldwide. APHA have informed us that to date, only Israel, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago and Singapore have introduced an outright or partial ban on poultry imports. However, all applications are being considered carefully and details of the premises of origin and slaughter dates will be required before a certificate is issued.

The OV may also need to make extra checks to ensure that the EHC can be signed. Where the poultry products can be heat treated, there may be some scope to sign the EHC given sight of the processing details, rather than relying on freedom from HPAI. For poultry slaughtered outside the UK and imported for onward export, the situation is the same, however getting the required information from overseas Government agencies and veterinary surgeons can be problematic indeed.

The situation is changing day by day and it is essential to contact us for the latest information before planning any exports. The HPAI outbreak is showing no signs of easing so it looks as though the problems are here to stay for some time.

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