Thursday, 9 March 2017
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Animal Disease Controls
13. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if, in view of the fact the disease control measures for avian influenza are being implemented on an all-Ireland basis, he will lift the compulsory housing order on poultry on 16 March 2017 as is being done in Northern Ireland. [12338/17]
Given the fact that the disease control measures for avian influenza are being implemented on an all-Ireland basis, will the Minister lift the compulsory housing order on poultry as of 16 March, next Thursday, as is now being done in the North of the island?
Since December 2016 there have been 12 confirmed cases of the H5N8 strain of avian influenza in wild birds in Ireland. In Northern Ireland there have been two confirmed cases in the same period.
In Europe, the virus was first detected in Hungary on 28 October. Events have evolved constantly ever since. There have been over 1,000 events recorded, 405 outbreaks in poultry, 29 in captive birds and 574 cases in wild birds. These cases have been recorded in 20 member states in 2017 as well as 750 cases in 2016. Hungary and France have had the highest number of outbreaks in poultry.
The situation is unprecedented in terms of the number of events and countries affected. If the epidemic is prolonged, as it was with the H5N1 strain in 2006, it could go on until May. There is also concern that HPAI H5N6, which is currently in South East Asia and has affected humans, could appear in Europe during the next migratory season.
On 23 December last my Department announced regulations under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 requiring flock keepers to confine all poultry and captive birds in their possession or under their control in a secure building to which wild birds or other animals do not have access and to apply specific bio-security measures. This is the first time such action had been taken by this Department. The requirement to keep birds confined was extended on 23 January 2017 and it remains in place.
I note that this week the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland announced the lifting of a compulsory housing order from 17 March. However, that Department intends to retain an avian influenza prevention zone until the end of April. This measure is designed to allow poultry owners to let their birds outside, but introduces some additional bio-security requirements for those that chose to do so.
My Department has engaged in ongoing consultation with stakeholders, including producers and representative organisations regarding the possibility of the requirement for birds to be housed remaining in place after 17 March 2017. I have carefully assessed the epidemiological situation in Ireland; the number and distribution of findings in wild birds; advice with regard to migratory patterns of wild birds over the next number of weeks; the continued need to protect, as much as possible, Irish flocks and the industry from exposure to infection; the continued retention of OIE avian influenza-free status by Ireland; and Ireland's continued access to third country markets. In this regard I announced on 8 March my decision to continue the confinement notice that is currently in place beyond 17 March, until 30 April 2017, at which time the confinement notice will end. The decision reflects a careful assessment and evaluation of the information and data specific to Ireland and is in the best interests of the poultry industry in Ireland.
The priority interest is indeed the poultry industry. As a representative of Cavan and Monaghan I cannot but be aware of how important that is to our local economy.
The question is not to press the Minister; it is to establish the position. I note from the Minister's reply that he is intent on continuing the housing order until 30 April. Will the Minister review it in the intervening period? Is the date set by the Minister absolute and not for reconsideration?
I thank the Minister for the reply to my parliamentary question that I received recently on the matter instancing the identified or recorded cases. Can the Minister indicate to us how up-to-date the associated figures are? Do they reflect recent recordings? That was not clear from the reply given by the Minister. Is there a period leading up to our engagement this afternoon during which there has been no recorded instances? How up to date or current are the recorded cases of bird deaths as a result of the avian flu?
I suspect the figure I gave - 12 confirmed cases - is up to date. These matters tend to be in the public domain as soon as they are identified. There may be cases of which I am unaware that are under scrutiny in the laboratory services to confirm whether the deaths are due to avian influenza but I suspect the figures are the most up to date figures.
We took a range of issues into account. These include migration patterns and epidemiological factors. A critical point is that we have OIE international certification that our confined poultry flocks are avian influenza free. This is important in terms of the market access it gives us. The United Kingdom does not have such status, meaning Northern Ireland does not. The industry in the Deputy's constituency, Cavan-Monaghan, exists cheek by jowl with that in Northern Ireland. Our position is different from that in the North in that we have OIE acknowledged avian influenza free status. That allows us to have unaffected markets. If we were to have an incident, the status would disappear.
The Minister referred to 12 cases. My question was not implying this is not the most up to date information; it was to ascertain when the cases occurred. Did they occur in February last, for instance, or further back in time? Has there been a period during which there was no recorded incident?
With regard to the control measures, is the Minister giving any consideration to a review to help to identify cases? How satisfied is the Minister that there is wide public awareness and knowledge of the threat presented to the poultry sector by avian influenza? Have members of the public been clearly informed, to the Minister's satisfaction, as to what reporting procedure should apply on the discovery of wild birds that may have died as a consequence of the avian influenza virus?
The first incident was in Wexford on 30 December 2016 and the remainder of the 12 cases arose, on a rather frequent basis, in the intervening period. I do not have the exact date of the most recent case but I recollect it was not that long ago. This would have informed the steps we took.
I acknowledge the assistance of the public. The first incident, which was in Wexford, was brought to the attention of the Department by a member of the public. Tests confirmed avian influenza. There have been incidents in Galway and all around the country since. Departmental communication was specifically geared towards the industry itself in terms of the steps it can take, through biosecurity, to minimise the risk. We cannot even guarantee that, by retaining the flocks indoors, we will avoid avian influenza. It is, however, the best possible course of action to minimise the risk. I do not propose a review between now and the end of April. As with others, I obviously hope that will be the time of the final order to retain flocks indoors. We will have to keep the matter under review at that stage given the incidents. It is critical to note that migratory activities will have peaked and subsided by that stage. These are contributory factors.