UK fights bird flu with additional poultry cull

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LONDON, Nov 14 (Reuters) Britain's farm ministry, battling to fight the spread of deadly H5N1 bird flu, said today it would cull poultry at four more sites as a precaution.

''This is a precautionary measure taken to prevent any potential spread of the disease,'' Acting Chief Veterinary Officer Fred Landeg said, adding there were no confirmed cases at the four premises.

The ministry began yesterday to cull about 6,000 birds at the Redgrave Park farm near Diss, Norfolk in eastern England where the virus has been confirmed.

The virulent H5N1 strain has killed more than 200 people worldwide since 2003 and millions of birds either have died from it or been killed to prevent its spread.

Redgrave Poultry, which runs the small organic farm where the outbreak has been confirmed, said it also operated the four other sites, Stone House Farm in West Harling, Bridge Farm in Pulham, Grove Farm in Botesale and Hill Meadow in Knetishall.

All the farms share the same staff.

''Each farm is too small for a dedicated staff, so a small team of people run this cluster of farms,'' it said in a statement, adding in total 22,000 free range turkeys will be culled at the 4 additional premises.

Britain's farm ministry has imposed a 3-km (2-mile) protection zone, 10-km (4-mile) surveillance zone and a wider restricted zone. In these areas, poultry must be isolated from wild birds and there are movement restrictions.

''For the moment, as things stand, we are hopeful that swift action has contained it,'' Jeremy Blackburn, Executive Officer for the British Poultry Council said.

Britain had an outbreak of the H5N1 virus strain in February at a turkey farm in Suffolk, eastern England.

CHRISTMAS DEMAND The potential for the virus to spread to other turkeys is set to diminish rapidly soon when producers begin to kill the birds which provide Britain's traditional Christmas dinner.

''They do start killing for Christmas next week so the number of turkeys about will get less and less very rapidly,'' NFU Poultry Board Chairman Charles Bourns said.

Britain consumes about 10 million turkeys every Christmas of which about 5 million are fresh and 5 million are frozen.

Blackburn said frozen turkeys were killed around the middle of the year so those remaining were fresh birds. These are spread widely across the whole of the UK.

''There is security of supply,'' he said.

Bourns said most British turkeys were eaten at Christmas.

''Most of the year-round turkey is imported from eastern Europe and Brazil. Our main production in the United Kingdom is Christmas,'' he said.

Bird flu is just the latest blow for British farmers still reeling from outbreaks of foot and mouth disease and bluetongue.

But perhaps the most damaging setback for the livestock sector this year has, however, been soaring feed costs.

''To be honest, bird flu is not keeping me awake at night.

What is keeping me awake at night are the regulatory costs and the high feed costs this year. Feed has gone up by 100 pounds a tonne,'' the Poultry Board's Bourns said.

''If we don't get enough for our chicken and turkeys there won't be an industry so you won't have to worry about avian influenza then,'' he added.

REUTERS PY VC2139

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