Northern Ireland (NI) Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has briefed a range of key stakeholders in NI and Great Britain poultry sectors following the detection of another suspect case of avian influenza (bird flu) in Co. Derry over the weekend.

Speaking after the meeting with a wide range of key stakeholders from the poultry industry including producers, transporters and feed companies, the Minister said: “Unfortunately, over the weekend, we have detected one more possible incursion of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 in a commercial flock in Co. Londonderry.

There is no doubt that this is a very difficult time for the poultry industry as they try to prevent an outbreak in their own flock and I do not underestimate how stressful it is, to be so vigilant every hour, of every day.

"But I can assure you, suffering an outbreak and facing the cull of your flock is even more devastating and I urged the poultry industry to take further steps to assist farm families and business to take every precaution possible to protect their birds and their livelihoods.

“Right across Europe and the UK, we are seeing this strain of avian influenza wipe out small backyard keepers with one or two birds, to large commercial businesses with over 500,000 birds."

The UK is currently dealing with its largest ever outbreak of avian influenza.

“It’s extremely disappointing that this is now the worst outbreak ever across the UK and yet another stark reminder of the importance of excellent biosecurity measures which ultimately, are the only protection we have in preventing avian influenza getting into our housed flocks," Poots continued.

"This is a particularly persistent strain and it will use any lapse in biosecurity to gain access to a flock.

Everyone must not only use our biosecurity checklist to see if they’ve ticked all the boxes, but get into a routine of checking it every morning. Make sure there are no forgotten or damaged access points and review your procedures every day to reduce the risk.

“I would like to thank the poultry sector for working so hard to protect our valuable industry and for how willing they are to make significant sacrifices to minimise the spread of this outbreak.”

The Minister also thanked his staff for their work over the last few weeks: “I would like to extend my thanks to the veterinary, technical, policy and comms staff within my Department as well as those in AFBI, PHA and FSA who are working together night and day to advise our poultry industry and help contain this outbreak.

Many will be giving up family time over the Christmas period.

"I would particularly like to thank the veterinary and technical teams on the ground who are undertaking the culls – it is a very difficult job, both physically and emotionally and I appreciate the very important task you are doing.”

NI bird flu situation

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs confirmed a suspected case of bird flu in Derry in its latest update over the weekend.

The suspect case is a broiler breeder flock consisting of approximately 28,000 birds in Ballinderry.

Appropriate control measures have been put in place, which include the humane culling of affected birds and the introduction of Temporary Control Zones (TCZs).

Samples have been sent to the National Reference Laboratory to confirm strain and pathogenicity.

Should highly pathogenic avian influenza be confirmed, these TCZs will be revoked and a 3km Protection Zone (PZ) and 10km Surveillance Zone (SZ) established.

The Minister also informed stakeholders that the two previous suspect cases in commercial poultry flocks near Markethill, Co. Armagh and a commercial duck flock in Coagh, Co. Tyrone were confirmed to be positive for the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain.

This takes the number of Northern Ireland’s outbreaks to four, so far, with one suspected awaiting confirmation.