DAERA has committed to making full compensation payments to poultry keepers who are affected by avian influenza after more outbreaks of the disease were detected in NI.
Initial test results indicate that avian influenza was present in a poultry unit near Markethill, Co Armagh, and in a commercial duck flock near Coagh, Co Tyrone.
Control measures have been put in place at the two premises, including culling of 14,000 birds at Markethill and 22,000 birds at Coagh.
Minister for Agriculture Edwin Poots has said bird flu could be prevalent for “the next three or four months” and he estimated that compensation payments might potentially cost “tens of millions”.
Speaking at Stormont, Minister Poots suggested that compensation payments for flocks affected by bird flu could be dependent on the levels of biosecurity the flock owner had in place. “If people have poor levels of biosecurity, one has to question whether compensation is a good use of public money,” he maintained.
However, full compensation payments are required under legislation and a DAERA spokesperson has confirmed that the department “will pay full market value” for birds removed for disease control purposes.
If further funding is required during this current outbreak of avian influenza, the minister will seek the support of Executive colleagues if necessary
The spokesperson told the Irish Farmers Journal that other Stormont ministers would be asked to help with the budget for bird flu compensation in the event of funds running out within DAERA.
“If further funding is required during this current outbreak of avian influenza, the minister will seek the support of Executive colleagues if necessary,” the department spokesperson said.
Another issue within DAERA is the availability of staff to respond to bird flu outbreaks, with Minister Poots telling MLAs on Tuesday that his veterinary service is already “pretty stretched”.
“Our staff will be under significant pressure, particularly with the control zones being put in place.
“The monitoring of those control zones and all the movements that take place within them, which is extensive, will involve considerable work,” he said.
There have now been four outbreaks of avian influenza in NI so far this winter, with the latest two cases following confirmation of the H5N1 strain at premises in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, and Broughshane, Co Antrim, earlier this month.
To date, five outbreaks of avian influenza have been detected in poultry units in the Republic of Ireland and 48 cases have been found in poultry flocks Britain.