NOV 20, 2012: Half a million households keeping chickens in Britain pose a major threat to poultry industry and 75% don’t comply with regulations on feeding birds kitchen waste, according to a shock report by the Royal Veterinary College.

The hard-hitting report also said that many people who keep chickens don’t know how to control disease in the birds, that nearly half of flock owners would not seek out a vet if chickens became ill and that keeping chickens is also major risk factor for diarrhoea in children. The survey, which focused on the London area, found most back garden flock owners provided their birds with good living conditions. But it says 75 per cent did not comply with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regulations which outlaw birds being fed on kitchen waste. Farmers have been banned from feeding such waste to chickens since 2001, because some agents of disease can survive in household food products. The survey, published this month in the journal of British Poultry Science, also found lapses in biosecurity, with very few owners keeping human visitors, wild birds and rodents away from their flocks. Few properly vaccinated their birds. The researchers found that nearly half of flock owners would not seek veterinary help if their birds became ill, despite RVC guidelines saying chickens should be cared for like any pet. Around 40 per cent said they would dispose of dead birds by burying them in their gardens, when they should be incinerated to prevent disease spreading through groundwater and wild species. Another serious concern was the low awareness of diseases such as Marek’s disease, infectious laryngotracheitis and infectious bronchitis, all common in backyard flocks in Britain. Keeping chickens is also a major risk factor for diarrhoea in children since the birds’ droppings can contain the disease agent campylobacter jejuni. More than a third of the chicken keepers surveyed had children, which highlights the risk posed to families. Study co-author Iveta Karabozhilova called for greater regulation of back garden chickens and more communication between householders and health officials. “Making information available and easily accessible is of high priority from a disease control perspective,” she said. “Even though evidence from our study shows that flock owners provide enriched living conditions to the chickens, they ought to realise that their pets are a farmed species and are subjected to regulations.”

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