The following is a Ministerial Statement by Ben Bradshaw, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on the recent Newcastle Disease case:
On 11 July 2005, suspicions were raised about the possibility of Newcastle Disease being present in pheasants on an estate in Surrey. We acted immediately on suspicion of disease following the control measures set out in Defra’s Exotic Animal Disease Generic Contingency Plan. The suspect premises were immediately placed under restriction while the State Veterinary Service started their investigation.
Initial investigations identified two possible sources of the infection. Among the 12,000 pheasants on the suspect premises were a number of birds imported from France during the previous month and so it was possible that they had first become infected there. The second possibility was that the pheasants had been infected once they had arrived in England from contact with wild birds. It is known that wild birds can carry the virus responsible for Newcastle Disease.
The UK contacted the French authorities who immediately began a thorough investigation. There has been excellent co-operation between authorities in the two countries. There was a rapid exchange of information concerning the movement of birds between France and the infected premise in England. The French Authorities identified a number of farms that had supplied birds to the infected farm. They undertook active surveillance and sampling which has now allowed them to conclude by blood sampling that birds on one farm have been exposed to the Newcastle Disease virus in the Loire Atlantique. Although virus isolation results are not yet available, culling of 20,000 pheasants and 35,000 partridges will commence on that farm today, ahead of final confirmation. The farm has been placed under restrictions and all movements off have been stopped.
Disease on the premises in Surrey was confirmed on 15 July and an order was given for the pheasants on the Infected Premises to be killed. The first birds on the Infected Premise were humanely culled on Monday morning and by 5pm on Monday, 2,700 birds had been killed. Depopulation is continuing and we will ensure that as many of the birds as possible are killed. The culled birds are incinerated in a commercial animal incinerator. None of the affected birds will enter the human food chain.
Also on 15 July, a Declaratory Order was signed, putting in place a Protection Zone around the Infected Premise and a Surveillance Zone. A census of all poultry premises has been undertaken and patrol visits started in the Protection and Surveillance Zone. Samples have been taken from premises adjacent to the Infected Premise which could be epidemiologically linked. Clinical examinations of the larger poultry premises have started in the Surveillance Zone with no clinical evidence of Newcastle Disease being apparent.
The EU Commission were informed immediately disease was confirmed and we continue to keep in close touch about the control measures we have put in place. The EU Commission is satisfied with the measures we have taken so far.
We immediately put in place measures to ensure exports, both to EU Member States and non EU countries of birds and hatching eggs do not originate from within the Infected Area. Intra-Community trade in birds and hatching eggs takes place on the basis of EU export health certificates which give area freedom from Newcastle Disease. Trade in birds and other susceptible commodities which originate from outside the restricted area can continue. Export health certificates to non EU destinations are required for most commodities relating to birds, including hatching eggs, poultrymeat, poultry products, table eggs, ready meals etc. The conditions for export depends on that country’s import requirements. Exports to non-EU countries can take place provided the importing country has not imposed a total ban on imports of poultry and poultry meat or requires the UK to be free of the disease.
Our advice to poultry keepers is to put in place strong biosecurity arrangements, keep an eye open for disease and to consider, in consultation with their veterinarians, whether vaccination would be appropriate. Some large-scale poultry producers already routinely vaccinate their flocks against Newcastle Disease. The Secretary of State may order vaccination of poultry if she thinks it is an appropriate and proportionate response to the disease outbreak.
The Health Protection Agency has confirmed that Newcastle Disease virus does not pose a significant threat to human health even when people handle birds known to be infected. Close contact is required for transmission to man. The virus is spread via aerosols from infected birds which can occasionally cause conjunctivitis, fever and flu like symptoms. The symptoms only last a few days and there are no long term effects on health. There is no risk of human infection from consuming poultry meat.
Industry and other stakeholders, including game shooting bodies, have been kept informed of the suspicion and confirmation of disease and their views have been sought. Industry supports the action taken as they wish the outbreak to be eradicated as quickly as possible.