Avian flu risk to the UK is minimal

An outbreak of avian flu in the UK would be far easier to control than foot-and-mouth disease, with commercial poultry production operating to high biosecurity standards, government chief scientific adviser Sir David King told the NFU annual conference.

Foot-and-mouth arrived at one of the worst times of the year in 2001, 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 also stressed that the prospect of humans catching the disease in the UK was very low.

“It has become clear in the Asian outbreak that for people to catch the virus they have to have very close contact with both poultry and faeces.

“This means UK consumers are not at risk and neither is the producer.

The people at risk will be those involved with the culling process and there are measures to protect them,” he said.

Food Standards Agency chairwoman Dame Deidre Hutton said that when poultry products were cooked properly, so juices ran clear from meat and egg whites were hard, there was no risk.

“The virus is susceptible to heat and is, therefore, destroyed by cooking,” she said.