Statement reveals breakdown in UK food safety

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bernard matthews, Avian influenza, Transmission and infection of h5n1, Meat

About 900 tonnes of poulty meat passed through a UK farm infected
with bird flu and into the food chain during an outbreak of the
disease last month, according to the country's public health
minister.

The admission is a sign that the UK's system of keeping tainted food out of the supply chain needs fixing before outbreaks of this kind occur again, whether from the bird flu virus or other pathogens. UK Public Health Minister Caroline Flint revealed the figure in Parliament in response to a question on 7 March. Of the turkey meat deboned and trimmed at the Holton site, 757 tonnes was sourced from the UK. The rest, 93 tonnes came from Hungary, linked through genetic testing as the source of the original infection at the Bernard Matthews farm, Flint said. She added that another 50 tonnes of chicken meat from Brazil also passed through the Bernard Matthews farm and related processing plant during the same time period. Bernard Matthews handled the suspect meat from 2 February, when the outbreak of the H5N1 virus was confirmed at the premises, and 12 February, when regulators said the disinfection process had been completed. The meat passed through the farm even though an EU-regulated protection zone had been put in place around it and the related processing plant during the outbreak. "All this meat was from birds slaughtered prior to 2 February and none of it came from birds from the infected premises,"​ Flint said in Parliament. Meanwhile the Food Standards Agency (FSA) claimed that none of the meat went near the sheds where sick birds were found and that properly cooked poultry meat remains safe to eat. "The Food Standards Agency informed me that their enquiries have shown that no staff handling meat at the plant handled live birds,"​ Flint added in a written statement. "The only staff coming into contact with live birds are those working in the lairage/killing area (which is separate from the main processing area). For hygiene reasons, these staff are not deployed in meat processing areas and there is no swapping of roles."​ In related news Bernard Matthews is spending £7m on an advertising campaign to try and regain its market in the UK. Previously the producer and processor had admitted that it had lost up to 40 per cent of its market in some segments. In a statement signed by Bernard Matthews, the company's founder, full-page adverts in several national newspapers now assure the public: "My turkey is completely safe to eat."​ The company is due to receive about €800,000 in compensation from the EU.

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