NFU warning over bird flu

THE chairman of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers Union last night warned that farmers' livelihoods are at risk amid fears over bird flu.John Collen spoke out as the European Union's first outbreak of the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu in commercial poultry was confirmed during the weekend in France.

By John Howard

THE chairman of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers Union last night warned that farmers' livelihoods are at risk amid fears over bird flu.

John Collen spoke out as the European Union's first outbreak of the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu in commercial poultry was confirmed during the weekend in France.

Mr Collen fears that panic amongst shoppers in France, which has seen the amount of people eating poultry plunge, could happen in the UK, which would have a devastating effect on both poultry producers and wheat growers in the region who supply feed for birds.


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Mr Collen, who is urging people to get their birds under shelter, said: “This could have a vast impact on the economy if poultry consumption fell off, and in France it fell by 50%, overnight almost.

“Then there is the effect on the cereal growers, we are a wheat growing part of the country. A lot of poultry are fed on wheat.

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“I'm not sure if people will be put out of business, it's too premature to say yet, but farmers' livelihoods are being threatened. I understand the public have health fears, and public perception is the key.

“On a personal level, we have got some ornamental peacocks and we are clearing sheds to make some room and get them undercover.

“My personal advice is if you can get them housed, do so. It may not seem quite so humane, but in the long run it is far more humane.”

But Mr Collen also warned against media hysteria. He said: “We went through the BSE scare, with all those professors saying ten million people could die.

“It's all very well to say these things, you can't disapprove it, but it is very irresponsible to put out.''

In Essex the county council Trading Standards department is urging poultry businesses to register their flocks with DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, by Tuesday .

By law any business with 50 or more birds is required register them by this date and Trading Standards services throughout the country are working closely with DEFRA and the State Veterinary Service to put into place a range of plans to make sure any signs of avian flu are detected at the earliest opportunity.

A spokesman for DEFRA said everyone with flocks of more than 50 birds is required by law to register with them.

He said: “We do not know how likely it is that it will arrive in this country, but the likelihood has been increased by the duck situation in France.''

The register of flocks of 50 or more birds will be crucial in the event of any outbreak. It will enable the relevant authorities to quickly inform all poultry owners of the measures they would need to take to prevent avian flu spreading.

In the European Union the first outbreak of the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu in commercial poultry was confirmed in France on Saturday, but President Jacques Chirac sought to ease fears by insisting that eating poultry is safe and panic unjustified.

The Agriculture Ministry said lab tests confirmed H5N1 in turkeys at a farm of more than 11,000 birds in the southeast Ain region of France, the European Union's largest poultry producer.

Hundreds of birds died and the remainder were slaughtered even before the presence of the lethal virus was official. The farm has been sealed off.

However, Chirac said there is no danger in eating poultry and eggs and that panic among consumers is totally unjustified.

“In any case, the virus in question ... is automatically destroyed by cooking. So there is strictly no danger,” the French president said as he inaugurated the annual agriculture fair in Paris where poultry was banned as a precaution.

Panic developing among consumers, with a drop of up to 30% in poultry purchases even before the announcement, has economic and social consequences for France, Chirac said.

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