A total of 22,000 free range turkeys are being culled on four farms after an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu in East Anglia.
The decision was made after the four sites were identified as having “dangerous contact” with the infected farm at Redgrave, Suffolk.
The problem is that there are five million turkeys, chickens, ducks and geese within a six-mile radius of the farm at the centre of the scare, on the border between Suffolk and Norfolk.
There are 25million in the wider ‘at risk’ zone.
The two counties produce up to a third of home-produced turkeys.
Bird flu could cause the price of Christmas turkeys to rocket this year, with organic birds likely to cost more than $220.
Animal health officials are today checking whether any other flocks of poultry could have been exposed to the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu discovered on a free-range turkey farm in East Anglia.
As many as two million turkeys are now regarded as at risk following an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu at a Suffolk poultry farm.
Prices have already risen sharply this year because of the spiralling cost of wheat feed. It makes up two thirds of the diet of farmed turkey and costs 70 per cent more than two years ago.
Now butchers and supermarkets are concerned that, if the outbreak spreads, British farms will not be able to supply enough fresh birds to meet demand at Christmas.
And there are still fears the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease is being spread by wild birds.
The outbreak has already resulted in the slaughter of 6,000 turkeys, geese and chicken at the farm, operated by Gressingham Foods. Further culls are expected in the next few days because workers are believed to have travelled to other farms owned by the company. It is believed the birds are being gassed.
There are also concerns that the virus has been carried to as many as 90 other farms within the six-mile radius by wild birds and ducks.
Scientists working for the food and farming department Defra confirmed yesterday that the bird flu is the H5N1 version of the virus, which is highly contagious.
Food and Farming Secretary Hilary Benn admitted there could be further outbreaks in the next few days.
The Conservatives accused the Government of putting farms and food supplies at risk by starving local authorities of the money needed to contain animal disease outbreaks.
They said only £8.5million of a promised £9.7million had been given to councils – a funding cut of 12 per cent.
The Food Standards Agency yesterday issued a public health bulletin insisting that there is no risk of contracting bird flu from eating poultry.
It said: ‘Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat. The science shows that the virus isn’t contracted by eating food but by close contact with infected birds.’
Despite the reassurances, turkey farmers will be worried that consumers could turn against their product and choose an alternative meat for Christmas.
Retail industry expert Stuart Whitwell, of Intangible Business, said: ‘This is a very frightening time for turkey farmers. If the virus spreads that could have devastating consequences for sales.
‘On the one hand, you could see a shortage of fresh birds. On the other side of the coin the reputation of turkey meat becomes tainted. Either way, sales and income will suffer.’
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