Posts misrepresent UK poultry protection measures

Social media posts shared in Australia and parts of Europe have exaggerated poultry protection measures announced by the last UK government in March this year. The posts misleadingly claimed that bird keepers in Scotland would be sentenced to "6 months in jail" or handed a hefty fine if they failed to register one chicken. A spokesperson for the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said prison sentences were reserved for those who caused "serious harm", not for failing to register a single bird. 

"6 months in jail or £5000 fine if you do not register that you keep even 1 chicken in Scotland starts on September 1st 2024. It is for your own good!!!" read the text superimposed on an image shared by an Australia-based Facebook page on June 7, 2024.

The post was shared more than 1,800 times alongside the caption: "Just fact checked this, and it's true". 

The same claim also circulated elsewhere here in Australia, as well as in Croatia, and Ireland.

Screenshot of the false Facebook post, captured on July 8, 2024

The posts surfaced online after the last UK government announced new measures on March 19, 2024 that required poultry keepers to register their birds regardless of flock size, where previously they were only asked to do so if they kept more than 50 birds (archived links here and here).

It came after the UK's worst-ever outbreak of avian influenza with more than 360 cases recorded since late October 2021 (archived link).

The government press release did not specify prescribed fines or penalties for offences related to the new registration rules.

Instead, it referred to the penalties outlined in the Animal Health Act 2002, Section 75, which includes imprisonment of up to six months or a fine up to level 5 on the standard scale (archived links here and here).

However, a government spokesperson told AFP the posts overstated the penalties for breaching these laws.

Legal penalties

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson confirmed in a phone interview with AFP on April 18, 2024 that while it was theoretically possible for a person to receive a prison sentence for failing to register their flocks of poultry, it was very unlikely to happen in practice (archived link). 

"We try really hard to do all the counterwork before they would ever be fined", the spokesperson said. "No one has ever been sent to prison for offences under the Animal Health Act."

The spokesperson also explained that the highest penalties were for people who committed deliberate acts that would cause serious harm or endanger public health, not those who failed to register a single bird.

Christine Middlemiss, UK Chief Veterinary officer,  stated that the new rules will enable authorities "to have a full picture of the number and location of birds kept across Great Britain, making it easier to track and manage the spread of avian disease" (archived links here and here). 

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