The UK government is looking into the possibility that the H5N1 virus spread to Bernard Matthews' turkey farm in Suffolk via the company's neighbouring food processing plant, where partially processed poultry from Hungary was imported.

Preliminary scientific testing has indicated that the virus in Suffolk is genetically identical to that which caused recent bird flu outbreaks in Hungary.

"Our investigations have shown that one possible route of infection is poultry product imported from Hungary. It is important that this is investigated thoroughly, along with all the other possible routes," deputy chief vet Fred Landeg said. "The company involved have voluntarily agreed to temporarily suspend the movement of poultry products between their outlets in the UK and Hungary until the investigation is complete," he continued.

The possibility that Bernard Matthews imported poultry from inside an avian flu exclusion zone in Hungary and that the food group broke EU food hygiene regulations are being investigated, a spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told just-food today (9 February).

Under European regulations, birds should not be transported within a three kilometre protection zone or a further ten kilometre surveillance zone around an outbreak. However, concerns that Bernard Matthews' flouted these regulations were aroused when it emerged that the company was importing 37 tonnes of partially processed turkeys from its Hungarian plans each week.

"The meat hygiene service is investigating whether Bernard Matthews has been importing poultry in compliance with animal hygiene and other European regulations," Defra told just-food. "As yet, there is no indication that the company violated any regulations."