Clampdown at Bernard Matthews farm in bird flu scare


A clampdown on movements in and out of a Bernard Matthews poultry farm has been imposed after a strain of bird flu was identified.

The strain, following initial tests, is not thought to be that of the most virulent H5 or H7 forms but government officials have ordered restrictions on the premises in Suffolk to be put in place as a precaution.

Workers at Bernard Matthews, which in 2007 was involved in an outbreak of the potentially deadly H5N1 strain, were confident the restrictions would be lifted within a few days.

However, officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) insisted that movements in and out of the farm should remain restricted.

A spokeswoman said: “It's a different strain from before. Tests that have been carried out on the premises have ruled out H5 or H7 – these are the ones that have the potential to spread quickly.

“Tests are ongoing so we aren't certain what strain this is. It's not a strain that's believed to be a risk to public health. We believe that the strain is a low risk to public health. The premises remain under restrictions pending further tests.”

Defra vet Alick Simmons was confident that any product from the poultry, whether meat or eggs, would be safe for human consumption.

The birds affected by the outbreak are, it is believed, being treated with antibiotics. It is not thought that they need to be culled nor removed from the food supply chain.

The heavy restrictions in Suffolk were imposed following the recent outbreak in China of the deadly new H7N9 strain, which has killed 14 of the 63 people known to have contracted the virus.

A seven-year-old child in Beijing was confirmed at the weekend as the latest person to be infected, raising fears that the disease was spreading as it was the first known case outside the Yangtze River Delta region. The UK strain is not thought to be harmful to humans, but there is some wariness.

After the 2007 outbreak at Bernard Matthews, the firm was criticised by Defra for a series of failings in relation to hygiene, such as scraps of meat being left in uncovered in waste bins, and holes in the turkey sheds allowing mice and rats to get in. However, the Food Standards Agency concluded there was insufficient evidence the company breached hygiene laws.

Experts said that the most likely cause of the outbreak of deadly bird flu at the farm was through contaminated meat being imported from Hungary to the company's processing plant next to the farm.

In a statement, Bernard Matthews said: “Bernard Matthews can confirm that some of the birds at one of the business' farms showed signs of ill health over the weekend.

“The company felt it was appropriate to report this to Defra. They have detected the presence of an avian influenza virus, but not the virulent H5 or H7 form. Some restrictions are in place as a precaution, but are expected to be lifted in the next few days.”

The farm caught up in the bird flu restrictions is at Ubbeston in Suffolk, a short distance from the turkey farm near Halesworth where the 2007 outbreak took place, prompting the slaughter of 159,000 birds.