Ryeview – March 2006

Act now to halt bird flu

John Clark writes…

First published: March 2006 – Gazette & Herald

The only thing we learn from History is that we don’t learn from History. In the 1960’s, Britain suffered from a Foot and Mouth Epidemic. If there was one lesson needed to be learned it was: ‘stop all animal movements’.

In February 2001, there was an outbreak of Foot and Mouth. Instead of an immediate freeze on all animal movements and markets, the disease was allowed to spread. One of the counties worst hit by FMD was Devon. Devon would not have had FMD if all animal movements had been stopped as soon as FMD was discovered.

The lesson from FMD is simple. Stop all movements as soon as we have the disease. Bird Flu is already in the EU in France. Has this stopped the movement of birds or bird products? Yes but only to countries that have said ‘No’. Britain as part of the EU has to continue to have poultry coming from France into Britain. Of the 20 million pheasants released into the British countryside each year, 10 million are imported from France. Bird Flu has been found in wild birds in France. Rather than let these 10 million birds be reared, a ban should be put in place now.

What is just as bad, if not worse, is that we are assuming that Bird Flu is not in the UK. Why? Wouldn’t it be much more sensible to assume that Bird Flu is in Britain but we haven’t found it yet?

Bird Flu is a serious disease that we should be taking very seriously. The government and the NFU appear to be walking hand in hand towards the same mess as they took us into with FMD. Yes, last time, FMD was extremely costly to farmers, particularly those who didn’t have the disease on their farm and those in areas like Ryedale that had the longest ‘restrictions’. FMD was extremely costly to Tourism. But, this time, it is possible that, not only are we talking of billions of costs, we are talking of thousands if not millions of deaths.

Spanish flu in 1918 killed more people than the total deaths in the First World War. It was, I understand, ‘Bird Flu’. That does not mean it will happen. What it does mean is that we must treat the threat of the disease as if it could be that devastating.

  • All poultry must be vaccinated as soon as possible
  • All poultry movements must be recorded
  • Imports and exports of all poultry and poultry products must be halted immediately
  • As soon as Bird Flu is found in the UK, all UK movements must cease i.e. within 24 hours of an identification. The only way to achieve this would be for all movements to be licensed now i.e. everyone wishing to move chicks, hens, pheasants etc would have to request, from Trading Standards, permission to move poultry. The authorities would have the telephone number, email etc of all ‘tomorrows movements’. An instant ‘stop’ could then be achieved on discovery of the disease.
  • All keepers of birds – of any number, size or shape should have to register them.

Farmers have gone through similar controls as a result of BSE and FMD. All careful fastening of the stable door after the horse had bolted. Just for once could we put sensible precautions in place before the crisis? Just for once could we learn from History?

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