An outbreak of avian flu in the UK would be far easier to control than the foot-and-mouth disease crisis in 2001, with commercial poultry production operating to high bio-security standards.

Foot-and-mouth had arrived at one of the worst times of year, government chief scientist Sir David King told the NFU annual conference, with above average levels of animal movements.

But the poultry industry was very different to the cattle and sheep sectors, Sir David said. Even if the virus arrived in wild birds, it would not necessarily affect poultry flocks.

And if one poultry unit was hit by the disease, it wouldn’t necessarily spread to other units.

Sir David added that it was crucial to have an “exit strategy” as part of the contingency plan.

The fact the government had not used vaccination in the 2001 F&M outbreak meant the UK was able to regain its “low risk” status as soon as January 2002.