Restrictions designed to halt the spread of the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu virus have been put in place around the Bernard Matthews turkey processing plant near Lowestoft, Suffolk, after H5N1 avian influenza infection was confirmed in samples taken from dead birds at the Turkey farm.

The first birds died on Tuesday (30 January) and when Bernard Matthews’ vet found the cause of death to be unidentifiable the company contacted the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on Thursday.

The 159,000 birds at the farm have been culled and their carcases are being incinerated.

The State Veterinary Service has enforced a Restricted Zone of approximately 2090 square kilometres, encompassing Suffolk and southeast Norfolk, a Protection Zone of three kilometres in radius and a Surveillance Zone of ten kilometres around the premises where movement restrictions have been imposed and poultry must be isolated from wild birds. In addition the national general licence on bird gatherings has been revoked, and bird shows and pigeon racing have been banned.

A veterinary risk assessment is being carried out to consider the specific circumstances of this case, including how infection first spread to the plant, and determine the level of risk it may pose to poultry and other kept birds, Defra said. On the basis of this risk assessment further restrictions may be imposed in the area.

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A spokesperson for the Defra told just-food today (5 February) that it is “cautiously confident” that measures put in place over the weekend to prevent the spread of the disease have been successful.

Defra emphasised that the outbreak of H5N1 in domestic poultry presents no threat to public health.