Bird Flu latest: Eight countries ban British poultry imports

Eight countries have now banned imports of British poultry products following the outbreak of avian influenza (AI) at a Bernard Matthews turkey farm in Suffolk.

However, despite reports from Tesco of a "significant drop" in sales of poultry, domestic consumption overall seems to be holding up, with no major backlash against chicken and turkey in the UK.

Russia, Japan, South Africa, Hong Kong, South Korea, Syria, Barbados and Ukraine have now banned UK poultry imports but the British Poultry Council (BPC) has stressed the losses are small.

"Several are not that serious if you look at the figures," said Jeremy Blackburn, executive officer at BPC.

"Overall, poultry exports are worth £300m a year, compared with a retail market here for British poultry of £3.4bn," he said.

Losses must be put he context, Blackburn said, and pointed out that Japan's ban is theoretical as they don't actually import any British poultry.

The next challenge is to re-establish the lost markets once the UK is declared disease-free. "It's something we're working on with Defra," said Blackburn.

This will take a minimum of 21 days.

"Invariably what happens is that the ban gets lifted when the country is declared disease free with regards to avian influenza," said a Defra spokesman.

Today, Bernard Matthews' sales director, Neil Dargie issued a statement, reassuring those involved in the trade that the business has managed the outbreak in a responsible way.

He said: "Our sales and supply chain teams have been in constant communication with our customers to reassure them that all our products are perfectly safe to eat. We have appreciated the responsible approach and the unwavering support that we received from all our retail, wholesale and foodservice customers and partners.

"Whilst the threat of avian flu will remain a concern for all of those in the poultry industry, Bernard Matthews has demonstrated that working together with the relevant bodies can result in a rapid and effective response.

"We remain committed to delivering the highest quality products to market as turkey will remain an essential part of the nation's diet and consumers should feel reassured that all of our products are safe to eat."