Press Release

Bird ‘Flu:
Vaccination before wholesale confinement and mass-culling.
Soil Association demands urgent meeting with Prime Minister.

For immediate release: 27 October 2005

The Soil Association is urgently calling for the Government to adopt vaccination as a first-stage control to combat any outbreak of avian influenza in the UK.  This use of vaccination in the form of a ring-fence is a proven, effective tool that should be used ahead of any moves to bring organic and free-range poultry indoors throughout the country and to prevent the mass-slaughter of UK poultry.

The EU position is that vaccination can be used and is also the method of control endorsed by both the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).   Despite this official support, Defra does not currently ‘expect’ vaccination to be part of the UK avian influenza control strategy and unlike other EU countries, such as Spain, the UK has no stockpiles of appropriate vaccine.

Following a review of evidence from around the world, the Soil Association has produced a detailed briefing that has been sent to the Prime Minister requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the adoption of ring-vaccination as a key control strategy.  The briefing is also being made available to poultry producers and the public. Urgent action is needed, given the potential for an imminent outbreak and the fact that it will take at least three months to produce sufficient stocks of vaccine and to train people to administer it to birds effectively and humanely.

Anna Jonas, Soil Association, poultry advisor said,
‘Ring-vaccination is a proven control method, as our evidence gathered from other countries confirms.  If Spain can build-up sufficient stockpiles, why can’t the UK? Using vaccination to control viral diseases in humans is standard practice – no one proposes enforced confinement, followed by mass-slaughter. A similarly humane, modern and scientific approach is required to contain livestock disease outbreaks.’

Andrew Gunther, Organic Poultry producer said,
‘Organic and free-range poultry is a success story in UK farming, which has gained strong consumer support.  As an organic poultry farmer, I am worried Defra is failing to take the action needed now to avoid the wholesale housing of poultry and the ghastly medieval scenes of mass-culling of livestock we saw during the Foot and Mouth debacle.’

Key points from the briefing:
·        Vaccines for avian influenza do exist and it is possible to differentiate between an infected and a vaccinated bird;

·        Vaccination has been used effectively in other countries as control measures for both low pathogenic and high pathogenic avian influenza – including in Hong Kong for the H5N1 strain potentially threatening UK poultry. Yet the UK Government (Defra) is currently only advocating the use of vaccine for zoological collections and rare or endangered birds;

·        Other EU countries, such as Spain, have stockpiled sufficient supplies of vaccine to undertake an effective ring-vaccination control strategy. Currently, the UK has none. The US also maintains stocks of bird flu vaccine for poultry to be used to create buffer-zones around any outbreak should they occur.

·        Building up sufficient stocks would require at least 3 months to produce the vaccine plus three months potency testing;

·        Following the devastating outbreak of Foot & Mouth Disease in 2001, the EU policy is to use vaccination and not rely on a culling policy. An EU repository of FMD vaccine has been set-up.

Please open attached PDF for the Soil Association's vaccination briefing

Please open attached word document for letter sent out to the Prime Minister

Please open attached PDF for the Soil Association's updated position statement

For further information contact:
Anna Jonas, Soil Association Poultry advisor: 01179 874595/07771 667424
Andrew Gunther, organic poultry farmer: 01769 550330/07979 067767
Peter Melchett, Policy Director: 07740 951066

For media enquiries contact the Soil Association press office on 0117 914 2448 or email