the facts

  • H5N8 strain - confirmed in Yorkshire, and The Netherlands - never detected in humans
  • WHO says cross-contamination technically possible but ‘unlikely’
  • A small number of farms under restriction after 6,000 ducks culled

Poultry retailers and suppliers have moved to quell concern in the wake of national media stories suggesting avian flu will affect turkey supply this Christmas.

The outbreak, at a Cherry Valley-owned duck farm in Nafferton, East Yorkshire, prompted widespread media interest, which intensified after the outbreak was found to be the same H5N8 strain detected on chickens in The Netherlands and turkey in Germany this month.

Bernard Matthews - which lost 160,000 birds to a cull following an avian flu outbreak in 2007 - said it did not expect the latest incident to have “any impact on its ability to deliver a ­successful Christmas for our customers”.

A spokesman added the company had no farms within the exclusion zone and that it “always maintained very high levels of biosecurity throughout the year”.

Gressingham Foods also said it didn’t have any concerns over Christmas turkey supplies, with joint MD Geoffrey Buchanan adding the company had increased bio-security at all its sites.

Meanwhile, 2 Sisters Food Group has implemented controls at its one poultry farm within the UK surveillance zone, including the suspension of all farm visits. The company added that test results on two farms within a kilometre of the Dutch protection area had been negative.

“The key message for our customers’ consumers should be to continue to support British poultry meat, assured that there is no risk in eating cooked poultry,” said a spokeswoman.

The British Retail Consortium said its members had not expressed concerns over supplies and was not aware of members taking “any special measures” in light of the outbreak.

“This is an animal disease that Defra is managing,” added the spokeswoman. “As part of its control strategy a relatively small number of farms have been placed under restrictions until the disease is eradicated so we don’t believe there will be an impact on the supply chain.”

Given the fact the virus strain had spread so quickly among poultry, there was a chance “we will probably see some human cases”, warned World health Organisation scientist Elizabeth Mumford.

However, Defra, which culled 6,000 ducks on the Cherry Valley farm after earlier implementing a 10km restriction zone, insisted risk to public health was very low, while the FSA said there was no food safety risk for consumers.