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Production resumes at turkey farm
posted by admin on 13/02/07

The Suffolk farm at the centre of the bird flu outbreak is to resume the slaughtering and processing of turkeys.

Some 159,000 turkeys were culled after the H5N1 strain was confirmed at the plant in Holton on 3 February.

Poultry will arrive from 0900 GMT on Tuesday from the 50 farms Bernard Matthews operates around the UK.

They will be brought in under a special licence, allowing them to cross into the exclusion zone which remains in place around the site.

According to Environment Secretary David Miliband the slaughterhouse has been re-licensed by the Meat Hygiene Service after cleansing and disinfection at the site.

Outbreak: Key locations

He said he had been "guided by science" in allowing production to resume, and that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) had investigated all aspects of the slaughterhouse and found them "of an appropriate standard".

Dame Deirdre Hutton of the FSA said nothing had yet been found to suggest a risk to public health, although she did admit that it was a "possibility" that infected poultry has entered the food chain.

Officials are still trying to work out where the H5N1 virus found in the farm came from - there have been suggestions that it could have come from a wild bird or from infected poultry from Hungary.

The H5N1 strain was found on a Hungarian goose farm in January, and UK officials said later that the Suffolk strain "may well be identical".

'Clear and open'

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Chris Huhne questioned how open Bernard Matthews has been with sharing information with the government about the bird flu outbreak at its Suffolk site.

"Where there's been a problem which could potentially affect the health of your customers you need to be absolutely clear and you need to be absolutely open," he said.

"And I'm afraid the way that the facts have come out in this case about the trade between Suffolk and Hungary suggest to me that that's not been the case."

But Bernard Matthews insisted it had never withheld any information.

A statement said: "Bernard Matthews has never withheld any information and will continue to assist Defra with its ongoing investigation."

Bernard Matthews has a processing plant in Sarvar in Hungary, about 160 miles away from the goose farm.

European Union officials said they were expecting results by Tuesday of tests into whether the two strains were directly linked, but that the results "cannot determine how the strain of bird flu actually arrived in the UK".

A meeting at the European Commission headquarters has heard that that records dating from November show no turkeys from the affected Szentes region were transported to the Matthews plant in Sarvar.

The H5N1 virus, which causes bird flu, does not pose a large-scale threat to humans as it cannot pass easily from one person to another.

But experts fear the virus could mutate and trigger a flu pandemic, potentially putting millions of human lives at risk.  ( BBC )

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