More than 10,000 turkeys at a Yorkshire farm set to be culled after an outbreak of avian flu

Tammy Hughes
·4-min read
TurkeAlthough the Government claims there is no immediate risk to the festive supply chain, experts are concerned three farms have been infected with the virus in the past fortnight aloney farm - Matthew Childs/Reuters
TurkeAlthough the Government claims there is no immediate risk to the festive supply chain, experts are concerned three farms have been infected with the virus in the past fortnight aloney farm - Matthew Childs/Reuters

More than 10,000 turkeys at a farm in Yorkshire are set to be culled after an outbreak of avian flu – sparking fears for Christmas lunches across Britain.

A temporary control zone has been imposed around a turkey-fattening premises near Northallerton after a highly pathogenic strain of H5N8 was detected on Saturday. 

The farm in question sells turkeys to Avara Foods which supplies Tesco and other leading supermarkets.

England's Chief Veterinary Officer, Christine Middlemiss, said that "immediate steps have been taken to limit the risk of the disease spreading" in North Yorkshire. 

She added that the Government is “urgently looking for any evidence of disease spread”, though the source of the outbreak in Northallerton is unclear. 

“Bird keepers should remain alert for any signs of disease, report suspected disease immediately and ensure they are maintaining good biosecurity on their premises,” Prof Middlemiss added. 

She added that all 10,500 birds at the farm would be humanely culled.  

Although the Government claims there is no immediate risk to the festive supply chain, experts are concerned three farms have been infected with the virus in the past fortnight alone. 

The outbreaks, in Gloucestershire, Cheshire and North Yorkshire, have been spread across the country – suggesting that the virus is being transmitted by migrating waterfowl.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says H5N8 has been identified in wild birds located in Gloucestershire, Devon, Dorset, Lancashire and Lincolnshire. 

Earlier this month 13,000 chickens were culled at a farm in Cheshire, while distressed locals in Worcestershire reported seeing swans spinning in circles with blood running from their nostrils. 

Turkeys are at particular risk of contracting avian flu because many are free range, meaning the virus can spread  quickly through respiratory secretions and faeces. 

Professor Paul Wigley, an expert in avian infection from the University of Liverpool, said without rapid action there might have been a risk to Christmas supply chains.

"There could be a risk, but Defra has acted extremely quickly to stop the spread of the virus," he said. "If it was to get into multiple flocks we could have a problem."

Colin Butter, from the University of Lincoln, said the latest strain of avian flu was very worrying. 

"It is always a concern when there is an avian flu outbreak, birds will be culled," he said. "It is not good for the poultry industry but there is no evidence that the virus will infect people.

"When avian flu does infect a person, it is usually a dead end infection, that is there isn't any onward transmission of the virus."

James Russell, president of British Veterinary Association, said biosecurity measures have been put in place to stop the spread of the virus.

He said: "It is a testament to the farmer and the vet that they identified the virus so quickly and took action.". 

A spokesperson from Avara Foods told The Telegraph an investigation had been launched to find the source of the virus.

"We can confirm that Avian Influenza (H5N8) has been confirmed on a turkey farm near Northallerton within the Avara Foods supply chain,' they said.

" We have enacted our contingency plan and are working closely with Government agencies and our wider suppliers and farming operations to manage this incident effectively and ensure that supply is not disrupted.  

"Additional precautionary measures are in place across our agricultural operations but it is important to stress that there is no risk to human health or food safety. "

A Food Standards Agency spokesperson added properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, remain safe to eat.

The H5N8 avian influenza virus is highly pathogenic – meaning that it leads to more severe disease rather than it being more easily transmissible – and the number of outbreaks has increased in recent years. 

The last H5N8 epidemic hit 29 European countries in 2016-17, including the UK, and led to the culling of millions of poultry across the continent. In Germany alone 900,000 birds were killed. 

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