[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2006, 02:24 GMT
Bird flu preparations criticised
Chickens on a Norfolk farm
Poultry farmers have been told they may have to move their birds inside
The government is wrong not to have supplies of the bird flu vaccine to use on poultry flocks in the event of an outbreak, a campaign group has said.

Soil Association director Patrick Holden accused the government of "a dereliction of duty" after it emerged it had no stocks and none on order.

Ministers said this week the government does not favour vaccination as a method of dealing with bird flu.

But Mr Holden said every available method must be used to fight the virus.

When the first case of a wild bird infected with the highly virulent H5NI strain of bird flu was discovered in France at the weekend, the debate among British farmers about the merits of vaccination intensified.

'Too limited'

Government officials have argued vaccination was costly and labour intensive.

They believe the current available vaccines are too limited and that vaccinated birds are still able to carry the disease.

QUICK GUIDE

And it was decided that culling would be the most effective way of controlling the disease.

Mr Holden, who is director of the organic farmers' organisation, said that while he appreciates the complexities involved in vaccination, it was not excusable for the government to effectively ignore it.

He said there were farmers with free range and organic flocks who would welcome it as part of an overall eradication strategy.

The Conservative environment spokesman Peter Ainsworth said he was surprised at the government's decision.

The H5N1 virus, which causes bird flu, does not pose a large-scale threat to humans, as it cannot pass easily from one person to another.

Experts, however, fear the virus could mutate to gain this ability, and in its new form trigger a flu pandemic, potentially putting millions of human lives at risk.

Poultry farmers have been told to prepare to move their birds inside in case avian flu hits the UK.

While it was not inevitable the virus would arrive, the risk had increased, Tony Blair's spokesman said on Monday.

There are an estimated 200 million birds on farms across the UK and between 10% and 15% are free range.

Current British policy is that birds would be ordered inside only if the disease was found in the UK.

EU officials are to hold a second day of talks in Brussels on Wednesday on whether to allow the vaccination of poultry to fight the spread of bird flu.

France and the Netherlands want to start vaccination programmes, but Germany and other members are opposed.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The pros and cons of vaccinating poultry



RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific