NFU president Tim Bennett has called on people to remember that avian flu is a poultry disease, not a human disease.

Mr Bennett was speaking outside Downing Street after a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair and DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett on Thursday (20 Oct).

“The British poultry industry is a highly professional and successful business worth £1.674bn, producing high quality and fresh, assured products,” he said.

“All the advice from the World Health Organisation and the Food Standards Agency is that avian influenza presents no human health threat from eating poultry products.”

Mr Bennett said the NFU, DEFRA and the poultry industry had been working together for the past three and a half years to ensure all concerned with the industry adopted the best procedures to deal with the threat of avian influenza.

The successful containment of Newcastle disease in July of this year demonstrated the benefits of that work, he said.

“The Prime Minister and I have reviewed all of our procedures and focused on issues of importance.

“The first is how to inform everyone who keeps chickens of the precautionary measures they should be taking.

“The poultry industry is highly professional, already observes strict procedures and is well aware of all the guidance.

“But someone with half a dozen chickens at the bottom of their garden may not be. We need to connect with these people.”

Mr Bennett said the second issue identified was the safety of anyone who works closely with poultry.

“Those few people in the far East who have developed Avian Influenza have been in close contact with infected birds and so it is of paramount importance that we protect the 50,000 people working in our industry. 

“The Prime Minister and I have reviewed the safety measures that farmers and their workers are already taking and considered what else we can do in the event of the disease breaking out in the UK. 

“As a result of the conversation further advice will be issued via DEFRA, the NFU and other poultry associations within a few days.”

  • See next week’s Farmers Weekly (28 Oct) for details of what else was discussed at the meeting.