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Document received February 22 2007 from Dr Chris Ashton

Dr Ashton represents the British Waterfowl Association on the Defra poultry stakeholders group and has kept geese and ducks for 27 years.

Defra is very clear on its website that vaccination of birds against avian influenza is illegal. This is because defra vets/advisors insist that 'vaccinated birds mask the infection'. That is strange because the 'other half' of the experts say this is nonsense - and that flock immunity stops transfer of disease. Of course there are also several reputable papers which document experiments which show the efficacy of vaccines. This is a debate which will run and run with respect to AI and FMD. Not surprisingly, the use of the bird vaccine has been very successful in Vietnam where the number of bird flu outbreaks in the 2006-7 season have been immensely reduced. Reported outbreaks have been in non-vaccinated flocks, and in illegal movements. Containment measures do go far beyond vaccination on its own.

Defra is reminded that some stakeholders do wish vaccination to be used in the event of AI outbreaks in the UK. Elm Farm Research Centre produced a paper on this subject which they launched at a Parliamentary Reception in July. I also gave a short presentation at a defra meeting in June about the desirability of having a policy - before the disease actually came here.

Stakeholders are currently talking to defra about vaccination delivery. A third meeting should eventually be held, and some information is also on the defra web page given in the first paragraph (above). I must stress that this is vaccination delivery - how to get the vaccine and how to use it, and to monitor its use. The use of the vaccine will only be authorized through vets, in certain circumstances, authorized by Defra.

Defra has said that the vaccine will not be used at an initial outbreak (such a Holton). They will try to control outbreaks by culling. They would wait for up to10 weeks into outbreaks before starting to vaccinate. The 10 week figure in the magic number of weeks that free range farmers would be expected to keep their birds indoors/under nets. They would be allowed to vaccinate at 10 weeks and release the birds at 12 weeks to keep their free-range status. So, let's hope there are no more outbreaks in E Anglia.

It is not at all clear how widely the vaccine might be available. Defra has 10m doses which are now all in the UK. However, it would be unrealistic to vaccinate over the whole country, and probably unnecessary. My view has always been that a vaccine bank should be in place for use in high risk areas of high poultry population density. Such areas are, of course, at risk from transmission within the industry itself. As it happens, East Anglia is also a high risk area from the possibility of infection from the wild bird population. That also applied to Moray (the Cellardyke swan). Perhaps the UK has put the intensive poultry industry in the wrong place! I believe that the European Food Standards Agency is addressing this issue.

I should also add that it is the belief of many that it is the conditions within the intensive industry that are primarily responsible for the spread of the disease. A look at the 'Compassion in World Farming' Website will confirm people's reasons for this view -

Hopefully the vaccination delivery policy will be finalized soon. What needs to be made a lot clearer is the circumstances in which defra would allow the use of the vaccine. How big an area would this be? Are we taking about the restricted zone? Or a much wider region? We have stressed to defra, in meetings, that the use of vaccine is a PZ and SZ is not very useful because of the 2-3 weeks needed to gain immunity. I am sure they see vaccination as a containment policy only. 'Ring vaccination' has been mooted as policy - though it actually would not work due to the time factor with this vaccine.

Some stakeholders, in contrast, view vaccination as protection policy. However, it does look as if we will not be allowed to use preventive vaccination (well in advance of a disease threat). All that might be offered is emergency vaccination. That would be the type of application made to Brussels.

The use of the current vaccines will be expensive. But my view is that people who wish to protect their stock should be allowed to use the vaccine. Many of the objections to the vaccine that defra puts up do not apply to people who keep small numbers of birds. Fortunately, for keepers of small numbers of birds, these 'backyard birds' are the ones least likely to get ill. That was the case in Holland 2003, and such is the case in Laos at the moment. Most of the outbreaks there have been in industrial birds, indicating that it is the industry and its conditions which are the problem. Quite why our pets, pure breeds and free range poultry have to take that risk, I really don't know.

An interesting light on the horizon is the forthcoming conference at Verona starting 19th March. Bernard Vallat [Director General OIE] has previously said that vaccination should be offered to birds that cannot be confined. Keepers of waterfowl, for example, cannot confine birds. Their birds should receive protection by vaccination. The Verona conference title is 'Vaccination - a tool for the control of avian influenza.' The cull policy and sanitary measures have proven not to be sufficient in controlling the disease. Also, there are ethical concerns about mass depopulation. The horrific scenes in the Far East which took place in 2005-6 really should not be repeated. It is time that all European countries agreed a unified stance on trade [i.e. restrictions on vaccinated products and vaccinating countries] so that nations and commercial traders do not use vaccination as a trading restraint. Vaccination is an accepted element of production across modern livestock farming and food production, why is avian flu vaccination being viewed so differently?

Christine Ashton

Other recent comment by Dr Ashton

'Bird flu factory ignoring risks'

Feb 20 2007

Steve Dube, Western Mail


A LEADING Welsh poultry keeper has criticised Defra's handling of the avian flu outbreak at Bernard Matthews's factory in Suffolk.

Dr Chris Ashton of Hope, Welshpool, who has kept geese and ducks for 27 years and represents the British Waterfowl Association on the Defra poultry stakeholders group, said it was a risk to reopen the Bernard Matthews processing unit on the affected site in Holton.

And it contrasted with the blanket restrictions - only eased last Friday - that had forced the cancellation of poultry shows and gatherings across the whole of Britain.

"It was a very rapid opening and was done for commercial reasons as I understand Bernard Matthews does not have another processing plant," said Dr Ashton.

"I agree that its function might possibly be legal under EU law and I agree that the cooked poultry meat is safe to eat.

"Yet here we have the possibility of cross contamination at the slaughter house and contamination by transport moving out of the area - it's the movement of people, vehicles, packaged products and so on that present the problem."

But she said at the same time a number of measures were taken for other enterprises. Shooting was prohibited in the restricted zone and bird sales and shows were prohibited nationally, though both bans were lifted last week.

"Ireland bans the import of live birds, poultry has to be kept indoors in the protected zone around the infected plant and all domesticated bird movement has stopped, including in the much larger restricted zone," she said.

"Is this right when the problem seems to be strictly at Holton, yet the plant is allowed to operate.

Many people view the continuation of the Holton slaughterhouse as a risk, while their own economic activities - miles away from East Anglia - are curtailed.

"Holland has even locked up its free range and hobby birds as a consequence of this one outbreak in the intensive poultry industry.

"I know that food supply is important. But Defra has underestimated the amount of economic activity in other types of bird-related activities."

Dr Ashton said many people would not buy or eat products from the intensively reared livestock industry on welfare grounds.

"They are all too aware of the issues surrounding it - issues which the insulated urban population often chooses to ignore," she said.

"How about a bit of joined-up Defra policy on carbon miles as well? Should we countenance trans-European reciprocal trade just because it benefits one organisation? And if it turns out that this AI outbreak did originate in Hungary - what will be done about future trade? Is it not time to think local not global? It makes sense on grounds of both disease control and welfare, and carbon emissions and food miles."

Last week government scientists said the strain of bird flu responsible for the outbreak of the disease was "essentially identical" to the virus found in Hungary.

The Veterinary Laboratory Agency found the H5N1 virus which killed turkeys at the Bernard Matthews plant in Holton was 99.96% similar to the strain that infected geese in southern Hungary.

Deputy chief vet Fred Landeg said no evidence had yet been found of "illegal or unsafe movements of poultry products from Hungary to the UK".

Although it now seems most likely that the virus was passed from poultry to poultry, the investigation into how it got to the UK continues and no lines of inquiry have been ruled out.

An official report last week revealed a series of problems at the Bernard Matthews plant which was hit by bird flu.

Large numbers of gulls were attracted by waste scraps in bins outside the Holton plant, according to an interim Defra report and the birds were seen feeding on the scraps and carrying them away.

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email from Dr Chris Ashton March 30 2006

The letter below has been sent to Smallholder Magazine and other recipients.

As pointed out by free range poultry keepers and breeders of pure breeds, especially waterfowl, our birds cannot be confined for any length of time. Sometimes the housing is not available. Even if it is, it may not be suitable, and welfare is compromised. These stock and free range birds are not the same as industrial birds reared for 6-7 weeks in sheds with high biosecurity.
An alternative strategy, other than confine and cull,  should be in place to protect these outdoor birds, should the need arise. Ordering and obtaining vaccine, and establishing rules to use it, takes months.

    Letter to Smallholder Magazine
    I would like personally to thank Smallholder magazine for continuing to provide up-to-date information on avian influenza. Dr Sarah Binns' article was a lucid overview of the reality of using vaccines. Perhaps government officials should be listening more closely to the vets who did experience the Foot and Mouth disease crisis at first hand, and who cannot see any sense in revisiting that scene.
    Recognized bodies of experts have established the science behind bird flu vaccines. Elm Farm Research Centre*, an opponent of the cull policy during FMD, has formed an alliance with organisations which represents over 80 per cent of the UKs organic poultry producers to persuade the government to prepare now to vaccinate organic and outdoor poultry in the UK against avian flu. Vaccination has been shown to work and other countries are willing to use it, why not here?.
    Their statement is supported by the information summarized below from the British Veterinary Association, and supported by groups of birds enthusiasts in the UK such as the British Waterfowl Association, Goose Club, Call Duck and Indian Runner Duck Associations, Henkeepers Association, Scots Dumpy Club, Araucana Club and the Poultry Club.
    All of these organisations urge that an operational vaccine bank should be in place, with rules established for its use. The most optimistic scenario is that we never get a case of Avian Influenza in the UK.  The worst, is that we do, and there is no vaccine in the bank.
    Yours sincerely,  
    Christine Ashton (Dr) 

    * Elm Farm Research Centre  can be contacted at   01488 658298

       BVA supports the use of vaccination under the following circumstances:

    Vaccinating high risk birds, from zoos or private bird collections, which

    cannot be moved indoors for welfare reasons.

    Where there is a high risk of spread of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus

    to the UK.

    3 Preventative vaccination in high risk areas where it is felt impossible to

    maintain adequate separation of domestic flocks from a high density of wild birds

    suspected of carrying AI, (based on a risk assessment).

    4  Emergency vaccination as a disease control option where other control

    methods have failed to contain the further spread of infection, or for high risk

    groups in the near vicinity as detailed above if preventative vaccination has not

    already been considered

    5  If the level of culling as a control method reaches such a level as to be

    unjustifiable on ethical or welfare grounds, as has now been declared in the

    Asian context by the WHO, OIE and FAO.

    If the disease becomes endemic in the UK and persists at high levels in the wild

    bird population.

     7 Where the welfare of birds is considered to be severely compromised; for

    example, free range flocks that are required to be housed indoors for long periods.

    Vaccination would allow the birds to be returned outdoors and they should be

    constantly monitored (use of sentinel birds).


     Letter written to the Daily Post, Cardiff, 12th March 2006 for publication by Dr Chris Ashton.

    Dear Daily Post,

     I am really worried about the apparent lack of activity by DEFRA in establishing an effective vaccine bank to combat avian influenza.

    The current scare about avian influenza is resulting in hardship for both bird owners and birds. Responsible owners worry about protecting their birds; irresponsible people discard them. Large numbers of 'pet' birds are now being dumped at animal sanctuaries, veterinary surgeries, or just plain culled due to fears about bird flu. Of course, there is no bird flu in the UK at present. It may not get here this year, but it might. DEFRA should have a vaccine bank in place for that eventuality. France and Holland have already achieved that.

    If DEFRA would be more public about its current arrangements for vaccinating zoo birds, people would be more confident about vaccination. The TV news versions on vaccination have been biased and sometimes incorrect. The vaccinated commercial chicken flock which supplies Hong Kong with poultry meat has been completely successful in excluding disease. So why not use this vaccine with pets and free range breeds kept in close proximity to their owners? The advantage of allowing this now is, that if bird flu does strike, birds (and therefore their owners) are already protected, rather than having to wait 18 days until the first vaccination takes full effect. Birds also need a booster vaccination to give them immunity for a year. Emergency vaccination (with a single dose) is never as good as the full course of two doses. Besides there will not be enough time or personnel to administer the vaccine in time.

    This may seem to be a lot of trouble but, unlike commercial chickens which live for six weeks, pet and free range birds can live to over 20 years in the case of geese, and even longer in other species. Why should their owners not have the choice to protect them? At present, big business is deciding what should happen to birds which have nothing to do with the commercial, export food chain.

    DEFRA tells us that vaccinated birds shed virus and are a danger. Research and practice in Hong Kong demonstrates otherwise. All Hong Kong commercial birds are vaccinated, and there has been no avian influenza case in those birds, or sentinel birds, since vaccination began over three years ago. An Avian Pathology research paper (2004, Ellis et al.) shows complete efficacy.

    Of course, no vaccines are 100% perfect. David Swayne is publishing a challenge experiment with chickens vaccinated with Intervets H5N2 vaccines from Mexico and Spain. The vaccines were shown to protect completely against mortality and morbidity. While all non-vaccinated birds excreted large amounts of virus, the majority of vaccinated birds did not excrete any virus. The minority excreted 10,000 to 100,000 times less virus than controls.

    Similar results were obtained in the 2004 Animal Sciences Group, Wageningen University, experiment with wild ducks and H7N7. If the vaccine did not give complete protection, shedding was so small that infection of other birds did not take place.

    As I perceive it, DEFRA has a duty to protect our rare and pure breeds of poultry under the National Farm Animals Genetic Resources initiative. This is an FAO and OIE requirement. However, merely listing our rare and traditional breeds will not be enough preserve them. We have to be proactive. This means our adopting a conservation policy rather than a cull policy in the event of an H5N1 outbreak in birds.

    The cull policy is centuries old. Millions must have been spent already on research and development into the bird flu virus and vaccines. Hong Kong, Italy and Mexico have used vaccines successfully, and these are advocated by experts in the field such as Ilaria Capua, cited in the 4th March 2006 edition of the New Scientist.

    DEFRA is being obtuse. The argument to vaccinate or not to vaccinate is about risk. Which risk is more serious: to leave birds unprotected to infect humans, or to reduce risk and infection? In addition, why should anyone want to work in the poultry industry with unprotected birds? If the virus were to be introduced by the wild bird population anyway, how could your vaccinated birds be a risk to you? People should have the choice of vaccination for their pet and free range birds now. DEFRA's idea that free-range birds can be housed for months and months in buildings that are only designed for overnight protection is not feasible.

    Christine Ashton (Dr)

    Author of 'Domestic Geese', co-author of 'The Domestic Duck' by Crowood Press

    Co-author of 'The Indian Runner Duck - a Historical Guide; 'Ducks' a colour genetics booklet; 'Calls and other Bantam Ducks'.
    Contributor to the magazines Smallholder, Country Smallholding, and Fancy Fowl.

    References supplied

    1. Ellis TM et al. Vaccination of chickens against H5N1 avian influenza in the face of an outbreak interrupts virus transmission. Avian Pathology, 2004, 33(4):405412.

    2. David Swayne (Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, USDA/ARS, Athens, Georgia. US) is publishing a challenge experiment with SPF chickens vaccinated with Intervets H5N2 vaccines from Mexico and Spain.The results are being published, and a summary is available at [This follows Swaynes earlier published work: Efficacy of vaccines in chickens against highly pathogenic Hong Kong H5N1 Avian Influenza. David Swayne, J. Beck, M. Perdue & C. Beard. Avian Disease, 45 (2), April 2001, pp 355-365].

    3. Transmission of Avian Influenza (H7N7) in vaccinated and unvaccinated pheasants (Chrysolophus pictus) and ducks (Callonetta leucophrys)

    Animal Sciences Group Wageningen University and Research Centre Report ASG05/I01764. ASG project 2042110000-1 October 2004 September 2005

    Michiel van Boven1, Jeanet A. van der Goot, Elly Katsma1, Guus Koch & Mart C.M. de Jong Animal Sciences Group, Lelystad, The Netherlands.




































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