Back to normal for Holton

The factory at the centre of a bird flu outbreak will be up and running as usual from today - for the first time since all 160,000 turkeys on the adjacent farm were killed.

The factory at the centre of a bird flu outbreak will be up and running as usual from today - for the first time since all 160,000 turkeys on the adjacent farm were killed.

The news from the Bernard Matthews complex at Holton, near Halesworth, came as it emerged that a link with the outbreak in Hungary had been ruled out by the European Commission.

And the cause of the H5N1 outbreak last night remained a mystery after the Hungarian link was dismissed.

After Anglo-Hungarian talks in Brussels, an EC spokesman said there was no evidence of the infection spreading from a restricted bird flu-hit zone in south-eastern Hungary to Mr Matthews's slaughterhouse in the north-west of Hungary.

Yesterday it emerged that, as well as bringing in meat from Hungary, where there has been a recent bird flu outbreak, the processing plant at Holton was exporting it back to Hungary until last week.

The company has now voluntarily suspended transport of meat products to and from Hungary.

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The Suffolk factory has been working partly ever since the outbreak and from today will be back to its normal operations.

A company spokesman said last night: "The Holton plant hasn't been fully operational since the outbreak.

"However, following the guidance of the relevant industry authorities, some areas of the Holton plant have continued to operate.

"It is important to stress that the areas of the plant that have been in operation have had all the necessary procedures and requirements in place.

"Bernard Matthews's Holton site will be fully operational as of tomorrow (Tuesday) following clearance from all the necessary bodies, including the State Veterinary Service and the Meat Hygiene Service."

Hungary's deputy chief vet, Lajos Bognar, said six lorries of cooked meat arrived in Hungary from Holton last Thursday. He said: "I can say that from the protection zone, from the UK, six trucks arrived from there last week, to Hungary."

The meat is being tested by Hungarian authorities, though its export was legal and done under licence from Defra.

Bart dalla Mura, Bernard Matthews's commercial director, said the company imported meat from Hungary to help it cope with fluctuation in demand for its products. He said the company followed all regulations and restrictions laid down by both the UK and Hungarian authorities.

"We have 57 farms in the UK from which we source most of our turkey meat, but we do source meat from other locations, including Hungary, if it is needed," he said.

A Defra spokeswoman said there was no risk of cooked meat from the Bernard Matthews farm being contaminated with bird flu because heat killed the virus.

She added: "Although the farm was closed down and the sheds tested as soon as the outbreak was confirmed, the processing plant continues to work as normal.

"Processed meat delivered from elsewhere in the country may have also left the site before Bernard Matthews stopped transporting last week. But this will also be safe because it will not have been from within the infected zone."

Environment secretary David Miliband was meeting government vets and scientists last night to discuss the outbreak.

Poultry farms within a

2,000sq km area that extends to the A140 Norwich-Ipswich road and to the A47 between the city and Yarmouth are having to keep their birds inside or apart from wild birds. Free-range farmers affected by the restrictions can still sell their products as "free range" as long as their birds are not housed for more than 12 weeks.

Outside the restricted zone, life is continuing much as normal for poultry farmers.

Dennis Foreman, director of Attleborough-based Banham Poultry, which employs 700 people, said: "We are following all the guidelines from Defra. We follow stringent hygiene procedures. Our farms are all outside the restricted area, and we have not had to move any birds."

He said only a small amount of Banham Poultry's produce was exported, but not to any of the countries which had imposed a ban on British poultry. Exports had carried on as usual.

A deal to save a turkey breeding business has been put on hold because of the avian flu outbreak in Suffolk.

Bernard Matthews had pledged to take a five-year contract with family-run Cherryridge Poultry's organic and free range turkey breeding farm. The company, based at Northrepps, near Cromer, shut down before Christmas amid rising manufacturing costs and cheap imported meat sales.

It was hoped a deal could be made before Christmas, saving about a dozen jobs at the breeding farm, but now the avian flu alert has led to further delay.

Neil Roper, who ran Cherryridge's production site at Northrepps, said he was confident a deal would be done when the flu outbreak was cleared up.

It is not yet known what could happen to the former processing plant at Northrepps, but there is a possibility it could be rented to another company or redeveloped with homes.

Mr Roper said they had until summer to clear the site.