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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 April 2007, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
Bird flu firm gets compensation
Workers wearing protective clothing
More than 160,000 of Bernard Matthews' birds were slaughtered
Bernard Matthews will get 589,000 compensation for the birds compulsorily slaughtered to prevent the spread of bird flu, Defra has said.

More than 160,000 birds were killed after an outbreak of the virulent H5N1 strain of the disease on a farm owned by the firm in Suffolk in February.

The company said it always maintained biosecurity standards, and had taken steps to enhance measures.

The Conservatives have criticised the decision to award compensation.

Meat importation

Commons leader Jack Straw has also said MPs are uncomfortable at the "high levels of compensation" awarded to the company.

The payout for healthy birds killed was announced in Defra's final epidemiology report into the avian flu outbreak.

Officials say compensation is provided under the Animal Health Act 1981 to encourage early reporting of bird flu to minimise the spread of the disease.

If the disease is allowed to spread it would cost taxpayers much more, they add.

The report analyses all the possible ways the virus could have arrived at the farm in Holton.

No specific proven source has been found but the reports says the most likely explanation is that the infection came from the importation of turkey meat from Hungary.

Low risk

In response to the report, Bernard Matthews said it had "undertaken rigorous internal investigations and audits" in the wake of the outbreak.

This episode reflects the need for constant vigilance
Ben Bradshaw
Animal Health Minister

Commenting on the findings, Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds said: "Most potential routes of infection are controlled through current procedures.

"However, the outbreak in Suffolk appears to be the outcome of a series of normally low probability events and circumstances which cumulatively led to the introduction of disease."

She said the report was an important part of increasing the understanding of bird flu.

There was a continuous low level risk of the introduction of avian flu to the UK, she added.

Commons debate

The National Emergency Epidemiology Group produced the report in consultation with the European Commission and Hungarian authorities.

Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw praised what he described as a "comprehensive report".

He said: "Although we cannot be sure how the outbreak happened, this episode reflects the need for constant vigilance, high levels of biosecurity and robust and well-developed contingency planning in dealing with animal disease outbreaks."

Mr Straw said in the Commons: "Of course we'll look for an opportunity to debate this, and all of us are uncomfortable about the reports of high levels of compensation paid to Mr Matthews' firm."

Insufficient evidence

Shadow Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth told the Commons that many people would be "astonished" that no-one was being prosecuted for what he called a "serious breach of biosecurity".

He said it was time to look again at the rules covering the import of poultry meat.

Junior Environment Minister Barry Gardiner responded that the government had been praised for its handling of the outbreak, including by the former Conservative Agriculture Minister John Gummer.

A report on the lessons learned from the outbreak will be released later this year.

Following an investigation the Food Standards Agency has said there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction.



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