Bernard Matthews' bird flu payout criticised

By George Reynolds

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bernard matthews, Avian influenza, Transmission and infection of h5n1, Influenza

The UK turkey producer at the centre of an avian influenza outbreak
earlier this year is to be compensated nearly £600,000 (€885,000)
despite receiving criticism in an official report published

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that Bernard Matthews will receive public compensation for the loss of healthy birds during the cull of nearly 159,000 stocked at the company's premises in Holton. Bernard Matthews will receive £589,356.89 under the terms of the Animal Health Act 1981. Defra said its officials and Crown prosecutors did not find sufficient evidence to press charges against the company for the outbreak of the deadly H5N1 virus at the site. Jack Straw, leader of the UK's House of Commons, is among those who have criticised the payout. "All of us are uncomfortable about the reports of high levels of compensation to Mr Matthews' firm,"​ he told legislators. Although insufficient evidence was found to prosecute Bernard Matthews, the report strongly criticised the company over some of the evidence investigators found at the site. Investigators were attempting to track down the source of the outbreak, believed to have originated in Hungary and transported to the UK via one of Bernard Matthews' supply trucks form its plant there. The report said investigators found the shed in which the virus was discovered was in poor maintenance with a leaking roof and uncovered ventilation holes that could have easily led to the spread of the outbreak. The building was one of the oldest on the site and further suffered from holes made by rodents that regularly entered the shed despite control measures, investigators said. They also found the holes had become large enough to allow even small birds to enter the shed. Meat from Hungary was dropped on the floor and then later discarded in bins, which gulls scavenged on, they said. The birds regularly flew between the farm and factory and investigators found other pests could spread carry infection between the two sites via a clear route. Polythene bags containing residual liquid from processing and possibly meat were also seen in the uncovered bins, which potentially could have blown across the site, they said. The report found that the general standards of biosecurity at Bernard Matthews were good and the problems largely related to the shed in question. The report offers hypotheses on the cause of the outbreak, including the suggestion that wild birds introduced the infection by gaining access to the shed and Hungarian imports introduced the virus. Infected turkey meat imported from Hungary is the most likely cause, the report concluded, although there is no evidence to support this, Defra said. Defra continues to investigate the cause of the outbreak, but tests have found that the strain found in Holton were genetically identical to that found in infected geese in Hungary in January 2007. They were also very similar to certain strains found in wild birds in Hungary and Scotland in 2006. Defra said the findings emphasise the importance of processors implementing effective biosecurity measures to prevent further avian influenza outbreaks in the UK. "There are always lessons to be learnt after any outbreak and that process is underway,"​ Defra said. "We will be working with the industry leaders and delivery agents on this and in particular examining all areas of biosecurity."

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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