The National Farmers Union (NFU) has called for increased vigilance on UK farms following a confirmed outbreak of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza in Turkey.

The union said that if avian influenza were to arrive on British shores, it could bring potentially disastrous consequences for the British poultry industry and it is therefore urging poultry farmers to tighten their biosecurity measures.

“Most farmers have already heightened their biosecurity measures following news reports about possible avian influenza in Romania and Turkey. The confirmation of an outbreak in Turkey means those farmers that haven’t tightened their procedures should do so immediately. Poultry enclosures, houses and surrounding areas need to be kept as clean as possible in order not to attract wild birds. Clothes, vehicles and boots should be cleaned and disinfected as appropriate,” said NFU poultry board chairman Charles Bourns.

“In addition, I want to assure the British public that we as an industry are taking, and are prepared to take, all necessary steps to protect our flocks from disease. UK poultry products remain disease-free and safe for consumers. The World Health Organisation has advised there is no health risk from well-cooked poultry meat or from eggs,” he added.

Meanwhile, the government has said it is prepared should avian influenza be confirmed in poultry in the UK. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has said a full contingency plan is in place.

“Confirmation that highly pathogenic avian influenza has been found in Turkey and that avian influenza is now also in Romania is of concern.  It shows that there is a risk to the UK and this is a developing situation, which we are monitoring closely,” said Defra’s chief vet Dr Debby Reynolds.