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Last Updated: Monday, 5 February 2007, 21:24 GMT
Promise to 'stamp out' bird flu
John Pointon and Sons processing plant in Cheddleton, Staffordshire

The government is determined to "stamp out" the Suffolk bird flu outbreak and regain the UK's "disease free" status, the environment secretary says.

David Miliband told MPs the response to the outbreak of the H5N1 strain at the Bernard Matthews site had been "rapid, well co-ordinated and appropriate".

The cull of the site's 159,000 turkeys has now been completed, Defra said.

Strict controls are in place around the site near Lowestoft, but officials say the risk to humans is "negligible".

Experts are trying to find the source of the outbreak of the disease, identified as the "highly pathogenic" Asian strain of the H5N1 bird flu virus.

Map showing main poultry locations in central and southern England

But the government says the priority is to contain and eradicate the outbreak at the farm in Holton.

A 3km (1.9 miles) protection zone and a 10km (6.2 miles) surveillance zone are in place.

Giving a Commons statement earlier, Mr Miliband said he was satisfied with the government's reaction.

He told MPs that experience from other outbreaks in domestic poultry had shown rapid action to restrict movements and cull the birds had eradicated the disease.

He also said the Food Standards Agency had said there was no risk to people eating properly cooked poultry, including turkey and eggs.

Mr Miliband said: "Our goals in this case are clear. To stamp out the disease, protect public health, to protect animal health and welfare, and to regain disease-free status for the UK."

He said it was also a "very high priority" to discover the cause of the outbreak, and that while the most likely cause was a link with wild birds, all possibilities were being considered.

But speculation about the virus being passed on by wild birds was "premature", the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said.

Shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth said the government needed to stress to the public that eating poultry was "entirely safe".

Map of Suffolk

"This is a blow to the poultry industry but it's vital that it doesn't become a crisis," he said.

Lib Dem environment spokesman Chris Huhne asked whether factory farming had been a contributory cause, and why the government had to wait until Saturday to get the test results.

Mr Miliband said there was no evidence of a link with factory farming and rejected suggestions there had been a delay, saying preliminary tests revealed the H5 strain of the virus on Friday evening.

Strict controls are in place around the site in Holton, where turkeys were being gassed, before their carcasses are transported to a rendering plant in Cheddleton, Staffordshire, for incineration.

Poultry owners in a wider restricted zone, covering 2,090 sq km (807 sq miles) around Holton, have been told to keep their flocks isolated from wild birds.

But BBC reporters discovered some chickens left outside just a mile from the farm.

Rural Affairs Minister Ben Bradshaw told the BBC that officials would be scouring the area to make sure biosecurity was being adhered to. 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 at some point in the future, and in its new form trigger a flu pandemic, potentially putting millions of human lives at risk.

Bird flu map
Scene of outbreak
All poultry to be culled
Visitors disinfected and restricted access
3km Protection Zone
Poultry kept indoors and tested
10km Surveillance Zone
No movement of poultry to or from area except for slaughter
Trains carrying live poultry are prevented from stopping in the protection zone
Bird fairs and markets banned
Increased surveillance of wetland areas
Domestic birds not to share water used by wild birds
Footpath restrictions likely only on free-range farms
People in towns not affected unless they keep poultry.
Restriction Zone
Isolation of poultry from wild birds
Poultry movements to be licensed
Source: Defra

Birds roam free despite containment area

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