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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 February 2007, 12:10 GMT
Farmers set for bird flu backlash
Avian influenza sign
A restriction zone has been set up around the affected farm in Suffolk
As the outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu virus sees thousands of turkeys slaughtered at the Bernard Matthews farm in Holton, Suffolk, farmers in the area are having to re-assess their working practices in light of the disease's arrival.

Jayne Rayner runs the family-owned E M Winter & Partners in Harleston, which rears and processes free-range chickens - it has between 800 and 1,000 birds at any one time.

"We have been asked to keep all our birds inside," she said. "Now we're waiting to see what happens next.

"It's a shame for the chickens because they're not able to access the natural environment.

"I cannot help but wonder why we are slaughtering birds and then moving them many, many miles to be incinerated.

"Some people may panic and stop eating poultry, but with food scares it tends to settle back down again and I have no reason to assume it won't happen this time."

I can only assume that it will shake people's confidence. Certainly the industry itself is already challenged
Clive Frost
Local businessman

Clive Frost, owner of Magna Poultry, based at Halesworth, says the industry was already under pressure before this incident began.

He rears birds for laying eggs for a large parent company, which he declines to name, and says that, even before the Holton outbreak, his February consignment of birds was cancelled and the next time he was promised work was July.

"We always did fear that the wind would bring wild birds from the continent or somewhere," he said.

"I can only assume that it will shake people's confidence. Certainly the industry itself is already challenged.

'Birds' best interests'

"Something like this could tip the scales. It depends on how the press report it. If people understand that the industry really is doing all it can for bio-security then they will retain their confidence in white meat.

"Most people in the industry really do have the birds' best interests at heart and this will be devastating for the site manager and employees."

Mick Binder rears 10,000 turkeys on his farm in Rumburgh, getting them as chicks in June - consequently he does not have any birds on the premises at present.

He says his stock is raised for the Christmas market, whereas the Bernard Matthews operation at Holton has birds all year round.

In the current situation we are not letting anybody onto the farm
Nigel Joice
Poultry farmer

"We'll look at our biosecurity measures again and follow any new rules, but there's not much more we can do.

"Bernard Matthews is a huge employer which takes on a lot of people. I hope they're big enough to pull through.

"I keep my birds outside because I think they should have fresh air, but if we are told that we have to keep them inside then we have the capacity to do that in our sheds, there's enough space.

"But we would have to make it wild bird-proof, and that's pretty difficult."

Meanwhile in Norfolk, poultry farmer Nigel Joice said he was "leaving nothing to chance" and has banned visitors to his farm in Fakenham following the bird flu outbreak in Suffolk.

"We are doing nothing differently on the farm apart from the fact we are not allowing any visitors," he said.

"Under normal circumstances visitors on the farm would be allowed but would have to put on protective clothing.

"But in the current situation we are not letting anybody onto the farm."




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