Poultry industry leaders are concerned that loosely regulated feather imports from Asia could bring avian influenza into the UK.
At a meeting this week, the sector told Defra officials that there were no systems in place to ensure processing regulations covering feather imports were being respected, or were indeed even adequate.
EU rules state feathers must undergo a multi-stage cleaning and drying process designed to eliminate bird flu bugs.
However, there is concern that exporters in Asia are trusted to carry out the necessary cleaning process with little checking at the point of entry into the UK.
Defra minister Ben Bradshaw, when asked about the issue in a
written Commons question last week, said that the UK imported 2,771 tonnes of feathers from Asia in 2004, up 33% on 2003.
He added: “Cleaning feathers with a steam current and heated to at least 70C is considered effective in significantly reducing the quantity of virus, if present, to a negligible level.”
Companies exporting feathers to the UK had to supply a certificate stating they had carried out the required level of processing, said Bradshaw. However, he admitted border officials used a simple ‘sniff test’ to determine whether or not processing had been effective.
“Unprocessed feathers would be easily detectable by smell or sight. They are highly susceptible to deterioration in transit and would be foul-smelling.”
British Poultry Council chief executive Peter Bradnock said the smell of feathers was an inadequate defence and called for more rigorous systems. “We need to carry out systematic tests at this end. It is not enough to rely on a piece of paper from an unknown company in Asia.”
Defra is poised to publish a contingency plan, outlining the steps it proposes to take if avian influenza were to take hold in flocks here.
Richard Clarke