Bernard Matthews resumes turkey slaughter after H5N1

Slaughtering has resumed at the Bernard Matthews plant at Holton, Suffolk, 10 days after the site was put under restriction following confirmation of H5N1 avian flu in one of the turkey houses.

DEFRA secretary David Miliband said last night that, following cleansing, disinfection and a satisfactory State Veterinary Service inspection, the Meat Hygiene Service had re-licensed the slaughterhouse.

The first turkeys from Bernard Matthews’ suppliers around the country started to arrive early Tuesday morning (13 February).

Mr Miliband also said in a statement last night that nothing had changed since last week with regards to the likely cause of the disease.

Poultry-to-poultry transmission is still thought to be more likely than contamination by a wild bird.

DEFRA is still examining links between Bernard Matthews’ British and Hungarian operations, suspecting that the H5N1 virus found on a Hungarian goose farm in January may have got into the supply chain.

“I expect a further report by the end of the week,” said Mr Miliband.

Discussions are also continuing with Bernard Matthews about bio-security at the Holton site, where rearing, slaughtering and processing all take place in separate buildings.

If the virus did arrive in semi-processed turkey meat from Hungary, it is still not clear how it then got into a fattening shed.

The Food Standards Agency is also still investigating whether any contaminated meat has got into the human food chain.

Chairwoman Deirdre Hutton said there was no conclusive evidence and the risk to public health remained low. Cooking turkey meat is known to kill the virus anyway.

Questions have been raised about the wisdom of resuming slaughtering at Holton so soon after the disease outbreak.

But Bernard Matthews insists it is complying fully with EU and UK legislation.

The company has come in for criticism in recent days for continuing to import turkey meat from non-restricted parts of Hungary after H5N1 was found at Holton, and for exporting cooked turkey meat from its site.

Again, Bernard Matthews says it was acting within the law, though it imposed a voluntary restriction on trade between the two countries last Friday (9 February) when DEFRA said it suspected poultry-to-poultry infection.

At the start of last week, the company was saying the only link between the UK and Hungarian operations was that they shared the same ownership.