Farmers reeling after return of bird flu

East Anglia's battered poultry industry was last night reeling from the second outbreak of H5 avian flu to be confirmed in a matter of months.The deadly strain of bird flu was found in a flock of 5,000 free range turkeys at Park Farm, Redgrave, near Diss, and immediately reported to Defra's animal health officials.

East Anglia's battered poultry industry was last night reeling from the second outbreak of H5 avian flu to be confirmed in a matter of months.

The deadly strain of bird flu was found in a flock of 5,000 free range turkeys at Park Farm, Redgrave, near Diss, and immediately reported to Defra's animal health officials.

The latest case follows the first outbreak of the deadly strain of H5N1 in 159,000 turkeys at the Bernard Matthews turkey farm at Holton, near Halesworth, in early February.

Although tests have not identified the precise strain of the latest outbreak, all the birds will be culled to prevent the spread of the disease. And Defra immediately ordered a 3km protection zone around the farm - a ban on poultry movements - plus a further 10km surveillance zone, where farmers will have to keep birds indoors.

The return of bird flu is the latest blow to East Anglian livestock farmers in a year that has seen outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and the arrival of the midge-born bluetongue virus from continental Europe.

But while farmers expressed dismay at the latest disease threat ahead of the vitally-important Christmas season, the Food Standards Agency reassured consumers that poultry products remained safe to eat.

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Bird flu rarely affects humans and can only be transmitted to people through close contact with infected birds.

The turkeys, 1,000 ducks and 500 geese at Redgrave Park Farm, which are reared for Gressingham Foods, will be culled, said Defra officials as part of efforts to prevent spread of the disease.

William Buchanan, commercial director of Gressingham Foods of Woodbridge in Suffolk, said the incident was reported promptly.

“It was picked up Sunday morning and our vet was on site yesterday lunchtime and Animal Health were out immediately,” he said.

A total of 60 turkeys had died out of a total 1,000 birds in one outdoor flock, Mr Buchanan added.

“It is confirmed as H5 and not as H5N1. We don't know whether it is high-pathogenic or low pathogenic and we don't know the type,” he added.

A total of 6,000 birds - turkeys, geese and ducks - were being reared at Redgrave Park Farm, which is owned by Mr G A Topham.

Deputy chief veterinary officer Fred Landeg said the cause of the infection was not known at the moment and he urged all poultry farmers to remain vigilant. “Everybody needs to be concerned, this is avian influenza.

"We are asking every poultry keeper to be vigilant, to house their birds where they are required to do so in any restricted area and carry out good bio-security measures and report any signs of disease."

Dr Landeg stressed that the epidemiological investigation into the outbreak, which is at a rearing unit, would try to establish its origin but that it was still at a very early stage.

“We will be looking at the movements on to the premises and off the premises of birds and movements of people, vehicles and things, to see whether there is another origin somewhere in the country or whether the disease could have spread.”

National Farmers' Union 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.”

Charles Bourns, chairman of the NFU's poultry board, added: "This is obviously worrying for that part of the world.

"This problem comes on top of everything else going on, such as high food prices, so it's worrying and concerning.”

But he said: "We have proved from the last two years that bird flu can be held on the one farm so hopefully that can be done this time.'

Shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth described the bird flu outbreak - the first incidence of the H5 strain in the UK since 159,000 turkeys were slaughtered at a Bernard Matthews farm in February - as "another nightmare' for the farming community.

Two police officers were last night standing outside the farm, monitoring the vehicles entering and leaving.

The vehicles were being sprayed with disinfectant as they entered the premises.

The RSPB's Andre Farrar warned against jumping to the conclusion that the disease had spread to poultry from wild birds.

The autumn migration was largely over, and no wild birds had been found with avian flu in Europe since late August/early September, he added

The Redgrave farm has a number of open sheds, which house the free-range birds. There are a large number of other poultry units nearby with at least 90 holdings with more than 50 birds inside the 10km surveillance zone. And there are an estimated 40,000 geese on farms in the immediate neighbourhood.

A wider restricted zone covering much of Norfolk and the whole of Suffolk and requires poultry to be isolated from wild birds.

Movements within this zone can take place, but movements are not permitted out of the new zone at present.

Bird gatherings, bird shows and pigeon racing will no longer be permitted as a precaution.

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