DEFRA will allow vets to carry out remote video inspections of poultry on premises in avian influenza disease control zones following a sector consultation which showed strong support for the move.

The changes follow a 4-week targeted consultation with poultry industry and veterinary organisations, in which 97% of respondents were in favour of allowing remote inspections.

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When a case of avian influenza is confirmed, control zones are declared around the infected premises and movements of poultry and kept birds in that zone are heavily regulated to prevent disease spread.

Movements are only permitted under a licence issued by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and currently a vet must physically inspect the birds and premises prior to the move.

New rules will mean that in England, vets will be able to undertake inspections for all types of pre-movement licences remotely by video.

This does not reduce their professional responsibility to confirm and verify that the premises meets the requirements. This will allow more inspections to happen at a quicker pace, and reduce veterinary travel time.

Global threat

Deputy UK Chief Veterinary Officer Ele Brown said: “Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 is now a global threat, and we know the devastating impact that it has had on farmers and poultry producers, which is why we continue to prioritise ways to support the industry during outbreaks of this disease.

“Remote video inspections will provide bird keepers and vets more flexibility, allowing important movements to take place as soon as they can whilst not diminishing the need for their professional independent opinion that licence conditions are being met.

“It is vital that everyone continues to keep biosecurity and cleanliness at the forefront of their minds to keep their flocks safe.”

Defra said a pilot in November 2022 showed these checks are just as effective as physical checks on commercial poultry for this strain of avian influenza. Owners and vets will still be able to request physical inspections if preferred.