Bird flu strain confirmed as H5N1

The government's chief veterinary officer has said the strain of avian influenza (AI) confirmed yesterday is H5N1

The government's acting chief veterinary officer has said the strain of avian influenza (AI) confirmed yesterday is the highly pathogenic H5N1.

Fred Landeg said the source of the outbreak is not yet known, but a full epidemiological investigation is underway. He said that the strain has Asian lineage and is closely related to strains found this summer in the Czech Republic and Germany.

H5N1 was the strain of AI that struck Bernard Matthews earlier this year.

Gressingham Foods is the company affected this time, but it has insisted its supply of Christmas poultry will be largely unaffected, despite the cull of around 6,500 birds taking place today.

AI was discovered in a flock of turkeys late on Sunday at Redgrave Park Farm, which is rented by Gressingham Foods, near Diss on the Norfolk / Suffolk border. The company supplies free-range poultry to several of the supermarket giants. Today 5,000 turkeys, over 1,000 ducks and 400 geese are being culled.

Commercial director Willian Buchanan told MTJ the cull represented a small proportion of their business: "The figures are that there will be 10m birds consumed at Christmas and this is 5,000 out of 10m that are being slaughtered. It won't make a difference for our business, it is a tiny percentage, it is one flock of the Christmas business.

"Customers can be reassured that it's business as usual and there will be plenty of turkeys, ducks and geese available for Christmas. It's one case, as long as it is contained then business as usual."

Staff working on the site have been given antiviral injections, added Buchanan.

Defra has imposed a 3km protection zone around the site and a 10km surveillance zone. In addition, a new restricted zone has been put in place, which covers much of Norfolk and the whole of Suffolk. Poultry keepers in the restricted zone are required to isolate poultry from wild birds. Movements within this zone can take place, but movements are not permitted out of the new zone at present.

No movements of poultry are permitted at present in the 3km and 10km zones around the infected premises.

Landeg said: "We are keeping all poultry keepers registered on the Great Britain Poultry register informed of the developing situation and I must stress how important it is for all poultry keepers in the locality to be extremely vigilant. They must report any suspicions of disease to their Animal Health office immediately and practice the highest levels of biosecurity.

"We have faced H5N1 once already this year, but there is still significant uncertainty surrounding this outbreak. Swift reporting of disease and stringent biosecurity is essential to controlling this disease and we are working to our established contingency plans."

NFU president Peter Kendall said: "Obviously this is another huge blow to the farming industry, which is still dealing with the effects of bluetongue and foot and mouth, and we will be working closely with Defra to do all we can to contain and eradicate this disease as quickly as possible.

"We fully support the measures Defra have put in place in the protection and surveillance zones and we will be working with them to make sure producers within the zones understand the implications of the restrictions."