Sunday, February 04, 2007

Tick, Tick, Tick - The 'Bloody' H5n1 Virus Has Hit Britain

On farms, Turkeys are raised and kept where each bird is given approximately 3 square feet of space. Image Credit: Farm Sanctuary

Tick, Tick, Tick - The 'Bloody' H5n1 Virus Has Hit Britain

In a first time ever attack, the H5n1 virus has found its way to England.

This infection has health experts confused as to how the virus arrived on this island land mass. It is too early for the wild birds to be migrating this far north, however, the strain seems similar to the strains found in Hungary last month and France about one year ago.

Also yesterday, the World Health Organization has confirmed the first human infection and death to be attributed to the H5N1 virus in Nigeria. Nigeria has confirmed that several other people are now sick with the virus and officials are watching to see what else develops.

Excerpts from The Washington Times –

Britons strive to contain bird flu
Washington Times - February 4, 2007 - From combined dispatches

HOLTON, England -- Britain scrambled to contain its first outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu in domestic poultry yesterday after the virus was found at a farm run by Europe's biggest turkey producer.

About 2,500 turkeys have died since Thursday at the Bernard Matthews farm near Lowestoft in eastern England. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said all 159,000 turkeys on the farm would be culled.

"We're in new territory," National Farmers' Union Poultry Board Chairman Charles Bourns said. "We've every confidence in DEFRA, but until we know how this disease arrived, this is a very apprehensive time for all poultry farmers."

The virus strain was identified as the highly pathogenic Asian strain, similar to a virus found in Hungary in January, DEFRA said.

It was the first time the deadly H5N1 strain was found on a British farm.

The entrance to the Bernard Mathews food processing factory being disinfected yesterday against the transmission of avian flu at Holton in Suffolk. Image Credit: Gulf Times - Doha, Qatar
The strain tends to be transmitted to poultry by infected migrating wildfowl.

The disease has killed at least 164 persons worldwide since 2003, most of them in Asia, and more than 200 million birds have died from it, or been killed to prevent its spread.

But it has not yet fulfilled scientists' worst fears by mutating into a form that can be easily transmitted between humans and possibly cause a global pandemic.

Avian-flu specialist Colin Butter of the Institute of Animal Health said the British outbreak was surprising as it had happened outside the main bird-migration period.

"The next thing we need to know is if this is a primary or secondary case. If this is a secondary case, it is much more serious. If this is the first case, or 'reference case,' and we can stamp it out, the outbreak will be controlled," he said.

A protection zone was established with a radius of 2 miles and a surveillance zone of 6 miles around the infected farm. Bird-related gatherings, such as bird shows and pigeon racing, were suspended nationwide.
Britain's poultry industry is worth $6.7 billion, with 800 million birds produced each year.

In May [2006], 50,000 chickens at three farms in Norfolk, also in eastern England and home to some of Europe's biggest poultry farms, were culled after another strain, H7N3, was detected.

A wild swan found dead in Scotland in March [2006] had the H5N1 version of the virus. It was thought to have caught the disease elsewhere, died at sea and been washed ashore in Scotland.

Experts stressed the situation did not pose a public health threat, and that eating well-cooked poultry products posed no risk. However, close contact with sick birds, such as in slaughtering or plucking, could lead to transmission of the disease.

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UPDATE (2-12-2007):

British officials believe they have found the source of this outbreak of H5N1 in turkeys and further find that they are powerless to do anything about it.

Excerpts from Telegraph Media Group Limited (UK) -

Britain is powerless to stop turkey imports
By David Derbyshire, Consumer Affairs Editor and Charles Clover, Environment Editor, Telegraph - Last Updated: 2:31am GMT 12/02/2007

The Government was yesterday forced to defend its decision not to ban imports of turkey from Hungary as farmers' leaders demanded an urgent review of the movement of meat into Britain.

David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, said Britain was powerless to block imports under European law, despite concerns that the infection could have reached the UK from Eastern Europe.

His comments came as Bernard Matthews, the company at the centre of the scare, admitted that it had imported meat from a supplier just a few miles from a restricted area where the lethal disease was found in farmed geese last month.

The geese farm in Hungary that was hit by the H5N1 strain of bird flu and has been linked to the outbreak in Britain. Image Credit: Reuters

Last night it was claimed that six lorry-loads of turkey meat from inside the restriction zone in Britain had left for Europe in the last few days. Channel 4 News said the consignment had left with the full knowledge of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Meanwhile, the National Farmers Union heaped pressure on the Government, calling on it to review the laws on banning meat imports.

Government scientists are continuing to investigate the cause of the outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu at a Bernard Matthews plant in Holton, Suffolk, two weeks ago.

They are concerned that the outbreak was linked to turkey meat brought to Britain from Hungary — a country badly hit by bird flu.

Yesterday, there were reports that the Bernard Matthews company was still importing turkey meat from Hungary three days after the bird flu outbreak in Suffolk was confirmed.

Defra said the importation of 20 tons of meat was "perfectly legal" as it came from outside a restriction zone around the infected site in Hungary. "To ban imports would be illegal, unnecessary and vastly disproportionate," a spokesman said.

"It would invite retaliation from other member states, which would have a devastating impact on the UK's food and farming industry."

Last night Bernard Matthews defended sending turkey meat from the Holton plant to Hungary, after the restriction zone was imposed.

"Bernard Matthews can confirm that it imports meat from Hungary and exports it to Hungary as well," the company said in a statement. "All these imports and exports are regulated and Bernard Matthews adheres strictly to all the regulations."

Mr Miliband said import bans would breach European Union rules.

He added that it was now clear that there had been "a bio-security lapse" at the Suffolk factory farm that allowed contamination to get from a processing plant into the sheds housing live birds.

Mr Miliband told BBC1's Sunday AM that he would have imposed a ban on imports from Hungary if vets had told him that this was a "sensible" step to protect public health.

Bart Dalla Mura, the firm's commercial director, said Saga Foods, the company's Hungarian subsidiary, sent meat to Britain from third-party suppliers all over Hungary, including an abattoir and processing plant in -Kecskemet in the south owned by Galfood.

This plant is near to the area where there was an outbreak of H5N1 last month in domestic geese. Mr Dalla Mura said: "Bernard Matthews can confirm that it uses the certified and regulated site in Kecskemet owned by Galfood. "Our information is that Galfood in Kecskemet is a turkey abattoir and processing site, and it does not slaughter or process geese at that site."

Mr Dalla Mura said the Suffolk plant imported about 38 tons of meat a week from Hungary but this would have to have been documented and registered as from outside the regulated area. He added that there were still no reports of the disease being found in Hungarian turkeys.

Peter Ainsworth, the Conservative spokesman for rural affairs, said the Government should have got a voluntary ban from Bernard Matthews on imports "much earlier than happened". Farmers renewed their calls for a review of import rules. Kevin Pearce, of the National Farmers Union, said: "At the moment it would be illegal to ban them, but if there was shown to be a risk to animal or human health, we need to act."

There are signs of a consumer backlash against turkey. Sainsbury's said sales of poultry were down 10 per cent. Somerfield reported a small dip.

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