Miliband defends government's handling of bird flu crisis

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor A charge of delay in the government's handling of the bird flu outbreak was rejected in the Commons today by environment secretary David Miliband.

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

A charge of delay in the government's handling of the bird flu outbreak was rejected in the Commons today by environment secretary David Miliband.

“I am satisfied that the response in this case has been rapid, well co-ordinated and appropriate”, he said.

He pointed out that the government did not know how the disease had arrived in Suffolk, but also stressed that the risk to the general public was judged by health experts to be “negligible”.

His statement in the Commons was followed by the questions in the chamber from Waveney MP Bob Blizzard - whose constituency includes the Bernard Matthews farm where the disease has struck - and five Norfolk MPs.

Tory shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth said that “thus far we support the government and its agencies, the police and local authorities who are working so hard to tackle the outbreak”. But he continued that it was difficult to establish whether the government was taking appropriate action when it wasn't known how the disease had arrived in the first place,

Most Read

A claim that there had been a delay in the government's initial reaction was made by Liberal Democrat shadow environment secretary Christopher Huhne. He asked why test results showing H5N1 bird flu had not come through until Saturday - four days after turkeys starting dying.

But Mr Miliband said it was unfair of him to suggest dilatoriness and argued that experts had worked very hard.

He told Mr Blizzard of the extent of deaths in the particular shed on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week. On the Tuesday it was 1pc, on Wednesday 3.pc, and on Thursday 16pc, and “it was the leap to 16pc which led the local vets to notify the State Veterinary Service”, he said.

Mr Miliband also denied that there was a “Hungarian connection” with the farm at Holton. Premises in Hungary where there had been an H5N1 outbreak were not a Bernard Matthews factory, he said. And he dismissed a suggestion by Norwich MP Ian Gibson that chicks might have been taken from Hungary to Holton. They had come from Britain, he said.

Mid-Norfolk MP Keith Simpson said there was a feeling in the Bernard Matthews company that there is “a degree of hysteria in the media”, and South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon emphasised: “We are in danger of talking ourselves into a crisis where one is not warranted.”