Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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Final epidemiology report into Avian Influenza outbreak in Suffolk published

Final epidemiology report into Avian Influenza outbreak in Suffolk published

DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS News Release (News Release ref :114/07) issued by The Government News Network on 19 April 2007

Defra has today published the final epidemiology report into the outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza in Suffolk confirmed in February.

The report sets out the findings of the National Emergency Epidemiology Group who have been investigating the outbreak in close consultation with the European Commission and the Hungarian Authorities.

The final report is a detailed analysis of all possible ways the virus could have arrived in Holton, Suffolk. No specific proven source has been found. The report concludes that the most plausible explanation is that infection was most likely introduced to Britain via the importation of turkey meat from Hungary. Such meat could have originated from a sub-clinically infected turkey flock in Hungary which had been infected from a wild bird source which had also infected the two goose farms in Hungary.

The investigation in conjunction with the Hungarian authorities has found no evidence of undisclosed infection in Hungary and the possibility of infection going undetected in turkeys is considered to be a rare event.

Debby Reynolds, Chief Veterinary Officer, said:

"The epidemiology investigation is an important part of increasing our understanding of avian influenza. 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.

This report illustrates the importance of effective biosecurity for all food business operators, as there is a continuous low level risk of introduction of avian influenza to the UK. There are always lessons to be learnt after any outbreak and that process is underway. We will be working with the industry leaders and delivery agents on this and in particular examining all areas of biosecurity. A full report will be produced and published."

Defra has also confirmed today that payment will be made to Bernard Matthews for the clinically healthy birds slaughtered for disease control purposes at their premises in Suffolk, as required by the Animal Health Act 1981 (see 'notes to editors').

Ben Bradshaw, Minister for Animal Health, said:

"I would like to thank all those who have worked so hard to provide such a comprehensive report. I would also like to thank the Hungarian authorities for their co-operation and all of those who did such a brilliant job of containing and eradicating the outbreak in Suffolk.

"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."

Notes to Editors

1. The full epidemiological report can be viewed at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/diseases/notifiable/disease/ai/pdf/epid_findings050407.pdf A Lessons Learned report will follow later in the year.

2. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced on 2 April 2007 that, following a thorough investigation, there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction under:

* Animal By-Products Regulations 2005;

* Animal By-Products (Identification) Regulations 1995;

* or the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006. Further information on the FSA investigation can be found here: http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2007/apr/bmatthews

3. Bernard Matthews will receive reimbursement of £589,356.89 for the clinically healthy birds compulsorily killed to prevent disease spread, as required by the Animal Health Act 1981. The rules requiring payment for property destroyed are for disease prevention purposes. They act as an incentive to report disease early. Early reporting is essential to preventing disease spread, which would result in a far higher cost to the taxpayer.

4. Defra is currently working with industry on proposals for legislation to establish an animal disease levy which would create an appropriate balance between what the taxpayer and industry are responsible for in relation to animal health and disease outbreaks.

ENDS

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