Support package for turkey workers

A package of measures to help workers laid off by Bernard Matthews was promised today as the government confirmed that no evidence had been found of the H5N1 avian flu virus anywhere in the UK other than at the company's turkey farm at Holton in Suffolk.

A package of measures to help workers laid off by Bernard Matthews was promised today as the government confirmed that no evidence had been found of the H5N1 avian flu virus anywhere in the UK other than at the company's turkey farm at Holton in Suffolk.

The commitment from work and pensions minister John Hutton - including extra help in Portuguese as well as fast-track benefits - came at a meeting with unions representing the 130 workers who have been laid off for four weeks and may lose their jobs altogether.

A further 400-500 jobs are also at risk after sales of Matthews products slumped by 40pc in the wake of the bird flu outbreak at the farm near Halesworth.

Transport and General Workers Union spokesman Claire Ainsley said: “The T&G spoke with John Hutton specifically with reference to payment of benefits to the workers laid off thus far. He agreed to instruct the Norfolk agencies to process the payments without delay.

“He said the government is fully committed to offering every support to the workers lay off. Because of language difficulties John Hutton has agreed that extra Portuguese speaking staff will be made available to the benefits agencies.”

Meanwhile Defra minister Lord Rooker told the House of Lords that “strict biosecurity requirements, wild bird surveillance and import controls are in place to minimise the risk of H5N1 being transmitted to poultry in the UK”.

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He was pressed by Liberal Democrat Lord Dykes about "worrying stories that keep coming along of very poor live poultry care in East Anglican turkey processing factories, and maybe also sloppy hygiene procedures and some misleading origin advertising”.

Lord Rooker replied: “We have done thousands of surveillances, reports and investigations. These have been ongoing since the outbreak and also taken place over the months before it.

“They have related to wild birds, dead birds, and poultry houses across the country but particularly in East Anglia. No evidence of H5N1 has been found, other than in the Bernard Matthews plant at Holton.

“It appears that this is exclusively a Bernard Matthews Holton problem. There is no evidence anywhere else in this country of H5N1 infection in the wild bird population, the intensive poultry population or the free range poultry population.

“More poultry houses have joined the poultry register since the outbreak. There are 23,941 premises on the register now.”

t The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been confirmed in eight suburban Moscow districts, a Russian veterinary official said today.

Experts enforced a quarantine in several villages and sought to keep the disease from spreading. The virus, which began killing domestic birds in the Moscow suburbs on February 9, has been traced to a single animal market just outside the capital. No human cases of bird flu have been reported in Russia, which had its first reported cases of the H5N1 strain in Siberia in 2005.