Industry calm in face of UK’s first case of deadly H5N1 bird flu

Confirmation that the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza killed a swan at Cellardyke in Fife has put the UK poultry industry on high alert.

A 3km exclusion zone surrounded by a 10km surveillance zone was immediately thrown up around the case, affecting nine registered poultry producers.

A spokesman for the NFU Scotland said it would make it hard for those nine producers to operate commercially, though not impossible.

But he said they had closed down movements until more was known about the outbreak. No birds will be culled unless the virus is found in commercial poultry.

“The majority of farmers are calm, they just want to know what the next steps are.

“Fife as a region has significant egg production and, with 1.25m egg-layers, it accounts for a quarter of the Scottish egg industry.”

Poultry meat prices have not yet been affected and some companies said they did not expect them to suffer.

They rejected the idea of a 70% drop in consumption like that seen in Italy last month after bird flu hit that country.

Polls so far have revealed that only 40% of consumers were worried about the disease, and NFU president Peter Kendall said there was no cause for panic.

“The British consumer has show commendable common sense since AI entered Europe last year and I would encourage them to continue to support the British poultry industry.

“Given the clear advice from the Food Standards Agency that poultry and eggs, properly cooked, are safe to eat we see no reason why sales of eggs or poultry meat should be affected.”

But if the virus does spread, it could have a serious impact on feed millers, admitted a spokesman for pig and poultry specialist ABNA, which owns a busy mill at Cupar.

“We developed an emergency contingency plan some months ago and it was put into action last night for our Scottish staff.

“We’ve put out disinfection mats at the feed mill in Cupar, drivers were briefed before they left at 6am and their trucks were fully loaded with disinfection equipment.”

ABNA has 10 mills in the UK which churn out some 2m tonnes of pig, poultry and game feed each year.