Indirect contact with wild birds is the most likely cause of the very mild bird flu outbreak on a poultry farm near Dunfermline earlier this year, an investigation has concluded.
Swift and robust contingency measures to contain and control the infection were successful and there have been no further cases of avian influenza in Scotland.
Following the results of the official investigation, poultry keepers across Scotland are being urged to maintain good biosecurity and remain vigilant for signs of the disease which is in constant, low-level circulation in the wild bird population.
It comes as the Scottish Government publishes a new five-year strategy aimed at further protecting animal health and welfare in the livestock industry.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Scotland is renowned for high standards of animal health and welfare. They are the foundation of our £1.6 billion livestock industry which supports 35,000 jobs. We must therefore do all we can to safeguard animal welfare and protect ourselves from the threat of disease.
“Working with industry, Scotland has already achieved Officially Tuberculosis Free Status (OTF) for cattle, and reduced exposure to Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) in our cattle herds from 40 per cent to 12 per cent. This is alongside the excellent developments in traceability of sheep and pigs that have been achieved with the ScotEID system.
“But we cannot be complacent – as demonstrated by the recent outbreak of very mild bird flu at a broiler-breeder unit near Dunfermline.
“It is thanks to the company and its private vet that the infection was caught at a very early stage which undoubtedly was a major factor in preventing its spread and ensuring it could be quickly stamped out.
“This isolated case highlights the importance of constant watchfulness and good biosecurity, and the need for individual keepers, industry and the authorities to continue to work together. The new animal health and welfare strategy set outs how we will do this over the coming months and years.”
Scotland’s chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas said: “Investigations have concluded that indirect contact with wild birds is the most likely source of the case of very mild avian influenza near Dunfermline. Tests also found it was a different strain of H5N1 to those previously seen on the continent.
“We know that infections such as this constantly circulate in wild bird populations at a very low level, and therefore remain a constant, low-level threat to poultry in Scotland. That is why I am writing to all registered poultry keepers in Scotland with advice about how to maintain good biosecurity on their farm.
“As demonstrated in the Dunfermline case, the speed of response is absolutely crucial in containing and controlling infection when it does occur. The Scottish Government’s new animal health and welfare strategy published today will help ensure our livestock industry is as prepared as it can be for just such an eventuality and, even more importantly, is taking every available step to prevent an incursion in the first place.”