Friday, February 09, 2007

H5N1 May Have Arrived In UK Via Shipment Of Turkey Carcasses From Hungary

The biosecurity of the UK will come under further hard scrutiny following revelations that a shipment of turkey carcasses between a poultry farm in Hungary and another farm in Suffolk, both owned by the same company, is the most likely source for the H5N1 virus that killed thousands of birds in only a few days.

From the UK Observer :

...a consignment of turkeys, which had been partly processed, travelled by lorry from the Hungarian plant and arrived in the UK a few days before January 27, the date when farm workers began to notice the first signs of illness in the turkey chicks at the farm near Holton, Suffolk.

A Whitehall source said there were concerns about bio-security at the processing plant, which lies adjacent to the Holton farm, where the infected birds were found. Officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are looking at allegations that scraps of meat are sometimes left lying around the floor of the plant and are scavenged by rats and wild birds, creating a possible route for infection.

Defra was aware last Monday that a consignment of meat had been taken into the plant but it was not revealed to the public. The environment secretary, David Miliband, made no mention of it when he made a statement to the House of Commons that day. Nor was it revealed by Lord Rooker, the agriculture minister, in the Lords earlier today. Lord Rooker confirmed that there had been no importation of chicks or eggs into Britain, but did not mention the possibility that carcasses had been transported into the plant.

British health officials also told the European Union last Tuesday they did not believe there was a link between the outbreak of bird flu at the Bernard Matthews farm and two recent cases in Hungary where Matthews also has poultry interests.

The British and Hungarian outbreaks, the first in Europe for more than six months, occurred within days of one another. Officials in Brussels said no wild birds had been discovered bearing the virus, despite widespread monitoring.

The Observer understands that the information about the meat consignment was considered by Defra officials to be 'commercially confidential' and a decision was initially taken not to put it into the public domain.

The government confirmed earlier this week that the strain of the H5N1 virus which was identified in one turkey shed the previous Friday was the same strain found last month in Hungary, where an outbreak among geese on a farm prompted the slaughter of thousands of birds.

A flock of 3,000 geese on the infected farm near Szentes in southern Hungary was destroyed last month after they were found to have H5N1. The virus first appeared in the country in February last year in wild geese, swans and domestic poultry. Britain's £3.4bn poultry industry, which produces 800 million birds a year, will now be under scrutiny.

Defra has continued to investigate the movement of people and animals on and off the farm, including any links the farm may have had with Hungary, where there have been a series of outbreaks in the last month and where Matthews owns Saga Foods, the country's largest poultry company. His plant in Sarvar lies 165 miles from the recent outbreak in the south of the country, in Sventes.

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