Six countries ban UK poultry exports

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Bernard matthews Influenza a virus subtype h5n1 Avian influenza

With six countries placing import bans on UK poultry due to the
outbreak of avian influenza, one of the country's largest
processors is fighting a rearguard action to retain its markets.

Ireland, Russia, Hong Kong, South Africa, South Korea and Japan have banned UK poultry meat, live birds and hatching eggs.

The Department of the Environment, and Rural Affairs (Defra) has also said that it is in the process of confirming whether India has also imposed a ban. Other countries could also impose bans as the UK has now lost its "disease free" status under International Health Organisation rules.

While the UK's regulators are advising the public that the risk of H5N1 being transmitted frompoultry to humans was "extremely low", they can take heed of what happened last year inEurope, when a number of countries were affected by outbreaks. Due to a decline in consumption and exports, some EU members were forced last year to stockpile supplies.

In the case of the current outbreak, UK-based Bernard Matthews is attempting to assuage consumer fears about the discovery of the H5N1 strain of the virus at its Suffolk turkey production site. About 2,600 turkeys died last week before authorities closed off the site and began culling birds.

Fred Landeg, Defra's deputy chief veterinary officer, yesterday confirmed that the culling operation had been completed on Monday night (5 Febuary) and that about 159,000 turkeys had been culled.

Authorities are still trying to track down how the disease managed to infect domestic birds raised in an enclosed area.

A 3km protection zone and 10km surveillance zone encompassing an area of 2,090 sq. km is in place around East Suffolk and South East Norfolk.

In a statement Bernard Matthews said none of the affected poultry had entered the food chain, therefore making it unnecessary to recall or withdraw any products or to issue refunds. Poultry meat from the company were "perfectly safe to eat", according to the statement.

Bernard Matthews produces about eight million turkeys every year in the UK,rearing them on 57 farms throughout Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire.It also provides retailers with a variety of different frozen, fresh and chilled branded productsfrom its processing centres. The company also has production sites in Germany and Hungary, whereavian influenza also reappeared last week.

Meanwhile the Financial Times today reported that Tesco had said shoppers at its stores are shunning poultry in favour of beef. Asda and Sainsbury both told the newspaper that sales figures remained unchanged during theweekend.

After H5N1 was found in a wild swan in Scotland last March retailers reported no downturn inconsumption. The H5N1 strain is usually carried by wild birds and then transmitted to domesticflocks. In rare cases the deadly disease can be transmitted to humans.

H5N1 has so far infected 271 people worldwide, of whom 166 have died, mainly in Asia. In Europe two people died in Turkey last year after catching the disease from the family's chickens.

The UK exported 271,000 tonnes of poultry meat worth £220.4m in the 12 months to October 2006,according to the British Poultry Council. Of the value £31.1m were earned from exports of turkey meat alone, the bulk of which goes to other Europeancountries. About 90 per cent of the poultry meat consumed in the UK is produced domestically.

At the retail level the poultry industry is worth around £3.4bn to the UK economy every year,with over 30 per cent of poultry products on the market falls in the ready meals and ready to cook productssegments.

The UK outbreak represents the largest incident of avian influenza in a domestic flock in central Europe and a resurgence of the disease. Europe had had no reported cases of avian flu since last August.

The new UK case is the first recorded incident of H5N1 in the country's domestic stock. The Department of the Environment, and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the strain found is similar to a strain that killed in geese in Hungary in January last year.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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