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Last Updated: Monday, 12 February 2007, 23:08 GMT
Bird flu farm resumes production
Turkey (generic)
Bird flu was confirmed earlier this month at the plant in Holton
Bernard Matthews is to resume slaughtering and processing turkeys at the Suffolk farm where bird flu was found earlier this month.

Live birds will be brought in under a special licence allowing them to cross into the exclusion zone.

Bird flu was confirmed at the plant in Holton on 3 February, and 159,000 turkeys were culled.

The turkeys will be brought in from 0900 GMT on Tuesday, from the 50 farms Bernard Matthews operates in the UK.

Environment Secretary David Miliband said he had been "guided by science" in allowing production to resume.

The slaughterhouse had been re-licensed by the Meat Hygiene Service after cleansing and disinfection at the site, he said.

Mr Miliband said the Food Standards Agency had investigated all aspects of the slaughterhouse and found them "of an appropriate standard".

TIMELINE
1 Feb: Vets called to Bernard Matthews farm in Suffolk after turkeys die
3 Feb: Vets confirm H5N1 strain and turkey cull is begun
5 Feb: Environment minister says most likely cause is from wild bird, but other possibilities being investigated
6 Feb: Cull of 159,000 turkeys completed at the farm
8 Feb: Government vet suggests turkey meat from Hungary may be to blame. Bernard Matthews denies link
9 Feb: FSA examines whether infected meat may have entered food chain
10 Feb: Supermarkets deny there has been a slump in poultry sales
12 Feb: Slaughter and processing of turkeys to be resumed at plant, it is announced

"Discussions are continuing with Bernard Matthews about bio-security on their site," he added.

They will then be slaughtered, processed and sent out.

Dame Deirdre Hutton of the Food Standards Agency said investigations so far had not found anything that raised the risk to public health.

"It is still a possibility that infected poultry has entered the food chain but the risk to public health remains low," she said.

Officials are still trying to work out where the H5N1 virus found in the farm came from.

They have been investigating whether it could have come from a wild bird or from infected poultry from Hungary.

The H5N1 strain was found on a Hungarian goose farm in January, and UK officials said later that the Suffolk strain "may well be identical".

'Clear and open'

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Chris Huhne questioned how open Bernard Matthews has been with sharing information with the government about the bird flu outbreak at its Suffolk site.

"Where there's been a problem which could potentially affect the health of your customers you need to be absolutely clear and you need to be absolutely open," he said.

"And I'm afraid the way that the facts have come out in this case about the trade between Suffolk and Hungary suggest to me that that's not been the case."

But Bernard Matthews insisted it had never withheld any information.

A statement said: "Bernard Matthews has never withheld any information and will continue to assist Defra with its ongoing investigation."

It is still a possibility that infected poultry has entered the food chain but the risk to public health remains low
Dame Deirdre Hutton, Food Standards Agency

Bernard Matthews has a processing plant in Sarvar in Hungary, about 160 miles away from the goose farm.

European Union officials said they were expecting results by Tuesday of tests into whether the two strains were directly linked.

"However, the results cannot determine how the strain of bird flu actually arrived in the UK," an official said.

Meanwhile a meeting at the European Commission headquarters has heard that that records going back to November show no turkeys from the affected Szentes region were transported to the Matthews plant in Sarvar.

The Hungarians were updating EU officials and UK government representatives.

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.

But experts fear the virus could mutate and trigger a flu pandemic, potentially putting millions of human lives at risk.

Composite map showing location of bird-flu outbreaks in Hungary and UK and site of Bernard Matthews processing plant in Hungary




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Footage from the scene of the Suffolk bird flu outbreak



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