Bird flu identified as H5N8 but Xmas turkey threat unclear

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

It was too early to judge the threat to Christmas turkey supplies, said the NFU but it remained 'business as usual'
It was too early to judge the threat to Christmas turkey supplies, said the NFU but it remained 'business as usual'

Related tags Bird Influenza Avian influenza

The outbreak of bird flu confirmed on the Yorkshire duck farm this week has been identified as the highly contagious stain H5N8, but it’s too early to gauge the threat to Christmas turkey and other poultry suppliers.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said the strain concerned posed “a very low risk to human health and no risk to the food chain”.

But the Food Standards Agency (FSA) took a less definitive view. “The risk of getting bird flu through the food chain is low,”​ it said in a press statement. “Some strains of avian influenza ​[bird flu] can pass to humans but this is very rare. It usually requires very close contact between the human and infected live birds.”

The FSA repeated long standing advice that properly cooked poultry and poultry products – including eggs – were safe to eat.

Safe to eat

As the cull of 6,000 breeding ducks continued on a farm near Driffield in Yorkshire, the National Farmers Union (NFU) said it was too early to guage the threat to Christmas turkey supplies or deliveries of other festive birds.

NFU turkey board chairman Mike Bailey told “At this stage, it is far too early to tell the full impact on the poultry industry in the UK, but for the majority of turkey producers it is business as usual.

“We will continue to carry on maintaining high on-farm hygiene and biosecurity measures as we continue to ensure that customers can look forward to enjoying a British turkey on their plates this Christmas.”

NFU poultry chairman Duncan Priestner added: “It must be stressed that consumers should be aware that this is a bird health issue and that they can be reassured that eating British poultry products is safe.  As it stands this is an isolated instance and while the poultry industry remains on high alert, it is business as usual.”

All poultry producers were urged to remain vigilant and continue with farm hygiene and biosecurity measures.

A protection zone of 3km and a surveillance zone of 10km have been established around the infected farm to control movement of poultry within and out of the area. The movement of birds to slaughter can be carried out only under official licence.

'Infected birds'

The British Poultry Council said: “If the virus was transmitted to humans the most likely route would be by breathing in dust and mist generated by infected birds and by not washing hands after handling infected birds or contaminated equipment and clothing.”

The virus can also be spread between bird houses and farms by moving contaminated equipment or machinery, it added.

The H5N8 strain is the same type identified on poultry farms in the Netherlands and Germany. Identified for the first time in Europe on a German farm earlier this month, H5N8 is highly contagious among poultry but has never been detected in humans.

In the Netherlands 150,000 hens were condemned for destruction on a farm at Hekendorp in the north east of the country.

In response to the outbreak the Dutch authorities imposed a three-day countrywide ban on the transport of poultry and eggs.

Meanwhile, controlling an outbreak of H5N8 in South Korea required the slaughter of millions of reared birds.

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