Norfolk farmers furious at bird flu slur

The Government has distanced itself from a statement by Defra linking the spread of the bird flu outbreak to farmers feeding dead chickens to foxes - after an outraged response from Norfolk's farming community.

The Government last night distanced itself from a statement by Defra linking the spread of the bird flu outbreak to farmers feeding dead chickens to foxes - after an outraged response from Norfolk's farming community.

The final report by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs into the spring outbreak of H7N3 strain at three farms in North Tuddenham, near Dereham, blames foxes for spreading the disease and says poultry farmers should stop feeding carcasses to foxes.

Its report states: “The results of this investigation, together with those from a recent survey of poultry keepers, indicate that bio-security measures should include preventing the predation of dead birds by free-living species such as foxes and advocate not practising the deliberate feeding of foxes with poultry carcasses.”

After hearing of the report's conclusions, Stuart Agnew, a leading Norfolk farmer and former county representative on the National Farmer's Union, condemn-ed the suggestion that farmers would intentionally feed foxes as “stupid” and said it was impossible for farmers to do more to stop dead birds being taken by predators.

A Defra spokesman later denied it was linking farmers feeding foxes with the spread of the disease in Norfolk but rather reinforcing good bio-security advice.

Mr Agnew said: “That is stupid, no poultry farmer in his right mind would throw out poultry carcasses hoping that a fox would eat it, it is a sure fire way of drawing them to their premises.”

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The report states that wild birds were the most likely source of the first outbreak at Mowles Manor Farm, owned by Geoffrey and Simon Dann, around March 17, and that the spread of the disease to Pound Farm, also belonging to the Danns, on about April 2, was probably due to contaminated workers.

It goes on to blame foxes living on Whitford Lodge Farm as the most likely cause of the disease spreading to the site on about April 15, claiming they probably fed on infected carcasses from Pound Farm.

It states: “This would have resulted in the environment within the site, especially around the fox earth, becoming contaminated.

“Infection was most probably introduced into the poultry houses by contaminated footwear worn by the staff and most likely by the egg- collecting team.”

Geoffrey Dann attacked the report for painting a distorted picture of how the family runs Pound and Mowles Manor farms.

“The report sounds like a nice story but I would not put a lot of credence in it,” he said.

“There is almost an implication that we left a pile of carcasses outside the chicken house.”

He said that dead birds were taken away by a registered disposal company and that the farm did not lose much poultry to foxes as chickens were shut away at night.

Mr Agnew said it was impossible for free-range farmers to ensure they pick up every dead bird, using his 40-acre free-range farm housing 16,000 birds as an example.

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