Government vets are to stage a major exercise in a bid to prepare the UK for an outbreak of avian influenza.
Last year Defra carried out Exercise Hornbeam, an initiative designed to ensure a foot-and-mouth epidemic such as the one which occurred in 2001 could never happen again.
Exercise Hornbeam consisted of a programme of 10 top-table exercises that culminated in a two-day real-time exercise in June involving 500 people, including staff in the Cabinet Office.
A similar exercise will be carried out for bird flu in 2006, according to a report on animal health by the government’s chief veterinary officer, Debby Reynolds. She said: “Exercises will continue to play an important part in testing readiness and ensuring staff are aware of and able to deliver on their responsibilities.”
Defra will also carry out a survey of poultry farms and slaughterhouses later this year to find out whether any animals have contracted bird flu. A similar study in 2004 of 213 holdings found no traces of the virus.
Meanwhile the European Commission has proposed a new directive to combat the spread of bird flu. The directive, expected to come into force from 2007, makes provision for flexible procedures to vaccinate flocks against the disease.