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Call for free range vaccination

PUBLISHED: 09:43 17 January 2008 | UPDATED: 08:19 28 March 2014

JANUARY 17, 2008: With the UK still under the shadow of bird flu, The Organic Research Centre had called for free range poultry in the UK to be vaccinated against the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain.

The Organic Research Centre is one of the leading organic research bodies in the country. It has been campaigning for preventive vaccination for outdoor poultry for the last two years as the disease has crept from the Far East to mainland Europe and to these shores.

"Dead swans at the Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset are a real trigger point," says senior policy researcher Richard Sanders. "This case, following the H5N1 outbreak in commercial turkeys near Diss last November, gives us a definite indication that the virus is circulating in wild birds in the UK."

"Housing all poultry is completely unacceptable, impractical and with some poultry species such as geese, impossible."

The Organic Research Centre is now urging Defra to implement a programme of preventive vaccination to allow organic, free range and hobby birds to remain outside.

Currently the Defra policy is to only use vaccination once its "stamping out" - slaughter on infected and contact premises - has been seen to be overwhelmed by the H5N1 virus.

"We consider this wait and see approach from Defra to be seriously flawed in the case of H5N1 vaccination which takes six weeks to become effective. With such a time delay, emergency vaccination cannot create a firewall."

The alternative to preventive vaccination, as suggested in the past by Government advisers and Defra' is the shutting up of all poultry in housing.

"Housing all poultry is completely unacceptable, impractical and with some poultry species such as geese, impossible. When the national mood, as voiced so loudly by Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, is for quality, high welfare poultry production, then we must do everything in our power to protect and grow the sector," says Richard Sanders.

"We call on Defra to release its stocks of H5N1 poultry vaccine now and to start an orderly programme of preventive treatment."

But not everyone agrees with the call for vaccination. Chief Veterinary Officer Christianne Glossop is reported to have rejected the idea.

She said there was a need to be "guarded" about vaccination. "Our expert view is that we’re not sure vaccination is a good idea right now but we should keep it under review."

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