Avian influenza reports published

UK - Two reports have been published today in response to the outbreak of avian influenza in Suffolk.
calendar icon 15 February 2007
clock icon 4 minute read
Defra has issued an interim epidemiological report into the source of the outbreak, while a report from the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Defra, Health Protection Agency (HPA) and Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) traces the source of imported meat at Holton to determine if it came from Hungary.

The Defra interim epidemiological report identifies two possible hypotheses for the introduction of H5N1 into the poultry premises at Suffolk.

It concludes that there is “little evidence” to support the first hypothesis of transmission from a wild bird source. This draws on advice from expert ornithologists and the fact that H5N1 has not been found in the wild bird population in Europe since August 2006. Also, extensive surveillance from the infected premises and the surrounding area has not isolated any trace of H5N1 in wild birds.

The second hypothesis is the spread of the virus associated with the importation of poultry products from Hungary. This is supported by the final virology results from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) confirming that the virus strain found in poultry in Suffolk is “essentially identical” to that which caused the outbreaks in Hungary.

The interim report therefore concludes that “currently the most plausible” route of transmission is associated with the importation of poultry products via Hungary.

“We are still yet to reach a final conclusion and our investigation will continue to be all-embracing in respect of possible means of introduction of the virus,” deputy chief vet Fred Landeg explained.

“However, these reports set out the current state of expert thinking and explain the rationale behind the most plausible explanation for how transfer of the virus could have occurred. It should nonetheless be recognised that we may never be able to conclusively pinpoint the original source of the virus.”

The FSA, Defra, HPA and MHS report examined transmission via imported Hungarian turkey meat. The FSA-led part of the investigation was launched to check whether meat from a restricted zone in Hungary had been brought to the Bernard Matthews plant at Holton, Suffolk.

This followed the hypothesis that there may be a link between the Hungarian outbreaks and the avian influenza outbreak in Suffolk. If it had been discovered that meat exported from Hungary to the UK had come from inside an avian influenza restricted zone, this would have been illegal under EU law.

Its main findings are:

• There is no evidence that any meat entered the UK food chain from the restricted zones in Hungary;

• From evidence gathered by the FSA investigation team, it appears that all food importing and processing activities being undertaken at the Bernard Matthews Factory at Holton are in line with EC law;

• The outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza does not alter the FSA's advice that properly cooked poultry meat remains safe to eat.

“This report shows that according to the best available evidence, no turkey meat from areas previously infected with avian influenza in Hungary was received at the Bernard Matthews plant in Holton,” said Food Standards Agency chief scientist Andrew Wadge.

“It is important to remember that this investigation has always been about the illegality or otherwise of meat imported into the UK , and not about food safety. We reiterate our advice that properly cooked poultry meat does not pose a food safety risk”.

The HPA's investigation focused on establishing if there was any health threat to the workers in the processing plant, or the wider poultry farm. Its assessment concluded the risk to the workers health was very low and as a result they didn't require any antiviral treatment.
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