H5N1: 'It does make you worried. You can never be sure about safety of food'

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Signs proclaiming the merits of the chicken were prominent outside JJJ Heathcote butcher's shop in Bollington, Cheshire, but there was no mistaking the concern about poultry being expressed inside the establishment.

Scores of customers asked the shop's manager, Kevin Spencer, about the provenance of his poultry - evidence, if any were needed, that the effects of the bird flu scare were being felt hundreds of miles away from Suffolk.

"There is genuine concern," Mr Spencer said. "People are far more worried about bird flu than after the last scare [when a wild swan washed up with H5N1 at Cellardyke, Fife, in March last year]."

"It does make you worried," said Samantha Price, 25, a mother of two. "You can never be sure these days about the safety of some food and this made me worried about providing meat for the children."

It appears, though, that consumers have more confidence in local butchers' shops than supermarkets. "I don't tend to buy meat from the supermarket as it's too artificial," Joan Britton said, stepping out of Heathcote's. "I would be anxious to know where the meat is from if there is bird flu around and these chaps are good like that."

Tesco announced a percentage drop in single figures of sales of fresh and frozen birds. The announcement may indicate that concern is rising because earlier in the day supermarket chains reported steady sales of poultry. "There hasn't been a huge effect but yes, there is an inevitable dip," a spokeswoman for Tesco said. Asda said sales were "holding up" and that customers seemed to "have faith" that the meat was safe.

British stores sell £3.4bn worth of poultry each year, of which about 60 per cent comes from the UK.

Richard Griffiths, the senior executive at the British Poultry Council, admitted that there was "concern" in the industry at the long-predicted arrival of disease. "With the outbreak last year sales dipped for a week or two then came back to previous levels," he said.

He expressed confidence that farms would weather the storm. "The poultry industry has been in a state of readiness for 18 months and has done as much as it can to prepare."

Farmers are hoping there will be no repeat of the panic on the Continent where sales fell by 40 per cent in Italy and in France by 20 per cent.

The Food Standards Agency repeated its advice for people to wash their hands after handling raw poultry meat and eggs. Poultry and eggs should be cooked properly, it advised, with the juices from meat running clear and egg whites cooked until solid. Raw eggs and dishes con- taining them should be avoided, the agency said.

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