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Moves to clamp down on bird flu

Emergency measures to contain outbreaks of bird flu in Britain and the Netherlands have been announced by t he European Commission .

It comes after Environment Secretary Liz Truss confirmed that a virus found at a duck breeding farm in East Yorkshire was the "highly pathogenic" H5 strain of avian flu .

The transport of poultry and eggs throughout the Netherlands was banned after an outbreak of the H5N8 bird flu strain was confirmed at a chicken farm in the central province of Utrecht.

Neither outbreak involved the H5N1 version of the virus which has caused hundreds of deaths worldwide.

Ms Truss said t he chief medical officer and Public Health England had confirmed the risk to public health of the virus was very low.

A European Commission spokesman said in a statement: "The measures aim at quickly bringing the disease under control and at preventing the spread of the highly pathogenic avian influenza within the affected member states, to other member states and to third countries while minimising the disturbance to trade.

"The measures include the culling of the poultry on the affected holding, the establishment of protection and surveillance zones, the introduction of sanitary measures (cleaning and disinfection), the prohibition of movements to sell live poultry, eggs, poultry meat and other poultry products to other EU countries and non-EU countries and the culling of affected flocks only in the restricted zones.

"The Commission is also informing other EU member states and non-EU countries, as well as international organisations, about the disease situation and on the measures taken."

Ms Truss said: "The Food Standards Agency have said it does not pose a risk for food safety for UK consumers. The chicken and turkey people eat continues to be safe."

A private vet raised the alarm at the duck farm in Nafferton, near Driffield in East Yorkshire, on Friday.

Subsequent tests by Government vets confirmed the H5 strain.

A 10km (six-mile) restriction zone has been put in place and all poultry on the farm is being culled in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease.

"We have taken immediate and robust action to control this outbreak and prevent any potential spread of infection," Ms Truss said.

But experts warn there may be more cases of bird flu emerging in the coming days.

It is the first serious case of bird flu since 2008, when the H7N7 strand was found in free-range laying hens near Banbury, Oxfordshire.

Most types of bird flu are harmless to humans but two types - H5N1 and H7N9 - have caused serious concerns.

Officials believe the outbreak may be linked to Germany and the Netherlands.

Dutch authorities first reported the outbreak of bird flu at a chicken farm in Hekendorp and H5N8 bird flu was confirmed yesterday.

Chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said the British farm at the centre of the alert, where farm workers dressed in blue protective overalls and face masks could be seen entering and leaving six low sheds containing ducks, had good bio-security in place.

As a result, the risk of spread is "probably quite low", he said, but warned more cases could follow and, because of the risk of wild birds spreading the disease, urged farmers and their vets all over the country to be alert to the possibility of disease.

Keith Warner, president of the British Veterinary Poultry Association (BVPA), also said that while previous outbreaks of bird flu had been effectively controlled on one or two isolated farms, there could be more incidents in the latest outbreak.

"Everybody in the UK that owns birds in any number should be on biosecurity lockdown," he urged, advising no unnecessary visits to farms, transport or sharing of equipment, and that all free-range birds in the 10km zone should be kept inside.

Professor Andrew Easton, professor of virology at the University of Warwick, said that while the risk to humans was "very small or non-existent", the risk to the poultry industry was high.

"There is always concern that some strains of flu may be spread by wild birds and surveillance measures are also likely to be introduced in surrounding areas to check for the possibility of spread," he said.

But RSPB spokesman Andre Farrar cautioned against jumping to conclusions about how the disease had emerged in Yorkshire, and warned that "stupid, costly and unnecessary decisions can be made in the heat of speculation".

Even if the virus was being spread by wild birds, the solution for the poultry industry was "excellent biosecurity". Moving or disturbing wild birds would only add to the problem, he said.

At the farm in Lowthorpe Lane, Nafferton, where a sign read "Avian influenza. Keep out", farm workers moved around inside the sheds, laying down straw and appearing to move dead birds

Gary Lavis, chairman of the parish council, said a problem was first noticed around a week ago when egg production began dropping and the number of birds dying increased.

"That alerted them to do some testing," he said.

He said he was particularly concerned about the potential effect on the local wild bird population. There are two battery farms in the area and a number of hobby farmers who keep chickens.

Concerns have been raised about the impact on the poultry industry in the run-up to Christmas.

Chris Dickinson, NFU county adviser for Yorkshire, said: "It is obviously a worry for poultry farmers but I just ask farmers to keep up high levels of biosecurity and Defra will inform us of their findings in the coming days.

"It is a busy time coming up for poultry farmers but poultry isn't just for Christmas, it's a big industry all the year round."

British Poultry Council chief executive Andrew Large said wide and ongoing surveillance of both housed and wild birds in the UK, particularly susceptible waterfowl species, is key to tackling the outbreak, which he hoped had been quickly contained.

"Consumers should continue to support British poultry meat, assured that there is no risk in eating cooked poultry, and that is a message echoed by the Food Standards Agency and the World Health Organisation."

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