Regulator releases poultry held over bird flu scare

By George Reynolds

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Bernard matthews Avian influenza Influenza a virus subtype h5n1 Influenza

Bernard Matthews, which is at the centre of a storm over an
outbreak of avian influenza at its turkey production site in the
UK, has been given the go ahead to release a batch of poultry
products held over the possibility they contained meat from
Hungarian birds.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) released the retail ready products for sale in UK retail stories following Hungarian confirmation that it had not supplied the meat in question. It is step forward for the firm which faces a major loss of consumer confidence in its products -- a crisis that is also affecting poultry sales in the country according to some reports. The FSA's regular board meeting today are scheduled to discuss the company's course of action during the crisis. The company could face prosecution if officials can prove bio-security rules were broken. The released meat, however, will not be hitting shelves in China, as the country yesterday joined Ireland, Russia, Hong Kong, South Africa, South Korea and Japan in temporarily banning British poultry. China, which has wrestled with its own avarian influenza problems, stated that poultry and poultry-related products sent from the UK after 13 January would be returned or destroyed, while those sent before would undergo testing for the virus. The suspension of trade will be a massive blow to the poultry industry trying to recover from the scare. China imported 1,964 tonnes of British meat between January and November 2006, according to figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. British poultry exports of 270,000 tonnes are worth an estimated £300m a year, according to the British Poultry Council. The poultry industry has been hit domestically also, with Sainbury's reporting a 10 per cent drop in poultry sales following the outbreak. Food manufacturers using poultry in their products, including Northern Foods, have distanced themselves from the crisis and refuse to comment to on whether trade had been effected or what plans they had in place to recover. Bernard Matthews' namesake owner, a figurehead in the poultry world and synomimous with turkey following a memorable television advertising campaign, has been in virtual hiding since the incident took fold. Bernard Matthews yesterday issued an apology for the bird flu scare that has swept the world following discovery of the outbreak in the UK earlier this month, but insisted his company is not to blame, according to the Daily Mirror. The apology follows UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) test results, published on 13 February, which revealed that genetic coding within strains of the HN51 virus found at both outbreaks matched 99.96 per cent, suggesting a direct relation between contaminations. The genetic strain of H5N1 found in Suffolk is "essentially identical" to the virus found in an infectected Hungarian goose in January, British veterinary experts confirmed this week. However, Defra and FSA investigations to discover how the H5N1 strain entered the plant and whether any infected meat sold by Bernard Matthews has entered the UK food chain continue. Despite the link, Dame Deirdre Hutton, of the FSA played down fears that British and Hungarian consumers were in serious danger. "The investigation so far has not found anything that raises the risk to public health.It is still a possibility that infected poultry has entered the food chain but the risk to public health remains low,"​ she said. Earlier this week, the slaughterhouse in Holton in which 159,000 birds were culled, re-opened for operations. A joint report by the Defra, the FSA and the Health Protection Agency, is in the process of being finalised for publication published at the end of this week.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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