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2007 Bernard Matthews H5N1 outbreak

  The 2007 Bernard Matthews H5N1 outbreak was an occurrence of avian influenza in England that began on January 30 2007. The infection was caused by the H5N1 subtype of the Influenza A virus and occurred at one of Bernard Matthews' farms in Holton in Suffolk. A range of precautions were instituted including a large cull of turkeys, the imposition of segregation zones, and a disinfection programme for the plant.

Though the cause of the outbreak was not determined, Bernard Matthews regularly transports turkeys and turkey products between the UK and its plant in Hungary, and the H5N1 bird flu strains found in Hungary and Britain are effectively genetically identical.

Additional recommended knowledge



The outbreak was the third instance of H5N1 detected in the United Kingdom.

The first outbreak occurred in October 2005 among exotic birds imported from Taiwan and South America at a privately owned quarantine facility in Essex, England[1][2] while the second instance involved a dead Whooper Swan found to have the virus in Cellardyke, Scotland in April 2006.[3][4]

A corresponding incidence on a farm in south-eastern Hungary was confirmed by the European Commission on January 25, 2007.[5]

The outbreak

Initial signs of the outbreak occurred on Tuesday January 30 2007 when 55 turkey chicks died and 16 had to be killed because they were sick. At least 185 more died the following day.[6]

It was not until 1 February that the deaths were reported to Defra. The farm was sealed off while tests were carried out on samples taken from the dead birds, at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey. Another 1,500 birds died on 2 February[7] and then on 3 February 2007 the H5N1 causation was confirmed.[8]

A 3km protection zone, 10km surveillance zone and a restricted zone encompassing 2000Km² were set up.[9] Another 159,000 turkeys were slaughtered with the cull being completed on the evening of 5 February. Also on 5 February there was criticism that nearby farmers had not been advised as to the action to be taken.[10]

Around 320 workers at the plant were given anti-viral drugs; although a vet from the site was admitted into hospital suffering from a 'mild respiratory illness' in the evening of 6 February, it was found not to be bird flu.[11]

The plant was thoroughly disinfected[12] with cleaning complete on 12 February and permission being given for production to resume.[13]

It emerged in a highly critical report from Defra that there was a series of biosecurity failings at the Holton plant, some of which were drawn to the company's attention in the past,[14] including "gulls were taking turkey waste to roosts on top of the turkey-house 500m away" and "holes in the turkey houses could have allowed in birds or rodents".[15]

Defra minister Jeff Rooker stated in a House of Lords debate on 22 February that the outbreak was "exclusively a Bernard Matthews Holton problem".[16]

Hungarian connection

The Government, on 8 February, admitted that the outbreak may have been caused by semi-processed turkey meat imported directly from Hungary, where the disease is prevalent, despite earlier in the week the Environment Secretary, David Miliband assuring the House of Commons that there was "no Hungarian connection".[17]

It transpires that Bernard Matthews have been importing 38 tons of partly processed turkey meat from their Saga Foods company, in Sárvár, Hungary to a processing plant next to the farm. Though Saga Foods lies 165 miles from the recent outbreak in the south of the country, in Sventes, a company director has admitted that it was "possible" that some of the meat could have come from the exclusion zone and Whitehall has expressed concern over biosecurity and whether any of this meat has entered the human food chain.[18]

On February 9, 2007 the Hungarian authorities started an investigation to try to establish whether there was a connection between the Suffolk and Hungarian outbreaks[19] and it emerged on February 11 that turkey products were still being transported, both ways, between the plant and Hungary with EU regulations being cited as the reason why a transport ban cannot be imposed.[20]

Whilst on February 12 the Hungary link was dismissed by the European Commission,[21] the H5N1 bird flu strains found in Hungary and Britain are 99.96% genetically identical, and almost certainly linked, according to an analysis of the viruses by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey.[22]

A leak from the Government's COBRA emergency committee indicates that the authorities were not aware of the Hungarian connection until an investigator found a Gallfoods delivery wrapper in a Bernard Matthews bin. This raised the possibility that this outbreak was due to a "third party abattoir, Gallfoods in Hungary, just outside the restricted zone". This abbatoir might have been a middle man for contaminated poultry farming tools, feed or product from within the restricted zone, such as a Bernard Matthews owned subsidiary in Hungary, "which saw an outbreak of bird flu in farmed geese in January".[23] In response, shortly before he flew away on holiday on February 14, Bernard Matthews said "I'm sorry - but this has not been of our making. There's been absolutely no cover up at our end. I've been upset about allegations that we may have withheld information. That is completely untrue."[24]

Bernard Matthews were given permission to resume its shipments of poultry between the UK and Hungary from February 17 even though Defra's own experts believed that Hungarian turkey products remained the "most plausible" cause of the outbreak.[14]


By 8 February there was a lengthening list of countries that had banned the importation of poultry products from Britain including South Africa, Russia, Japan and many others[25] but a spokesman for the European Commission condemned the bans as "totally disproportionate" and the British Poultry Council pointed out that exports were less than 9% of the level of domestic sales.[26]

Supermarket sales of Bernard Matthews branded turkeys halved after the onset of the outbreak as shoppers sought out alternatives. Further, one of the biggest ongoing surveys of consumer confidence revealed that by February 13 2007 Bernard Matthews was now the least respected and trusted brand in Britain.[27]

Following the outbreak, the company confirmed on February 19, 2007, that 130 workers would be laid off for a period of twenty days due to a drop in product sales[28] and the Transport and General Workers' Union called for the government to provide compensation to the workers affected.[29] The Transport and General Workers' Union paid out hardship monies from union funds to union members, on top of any state benefits to which the laid off workers were entitled and a one-off £100 payment from Bernard Matthews.[30]

A row broke out on 1 March 2007 when it emerged that the Government were paying compensation to the company for the 159,000 culled turkeys while laid off workers were receiving nothing. At £3.75 each for hens and £3.53 for cocks the payout was then estimated at between £537,000 and £570,000[31][32] but, in the event, it came out at £589,356.89.[33]

The crisis is expected to cost Bernard Matthews at least £20m in lost sales and costs.[34]


Main article: H5N1

H5N1 is a subtype of the Influenza A virus that can cause illness in humans and many other animal species.[35] A bird-adapted strain of H5N1, called HPAI A(H5N1) for "highly pathogenic avian influenza virus of type A of subtype H5N1", is the causative agent of H5N1 flu, commonly known as "avian influenza" or "bird flu".

H5N1 is an avian disease. There is no evidence of efficient human-to-human transmission or of airborne transmission of HPAI A(H5N1) to humans. In almost all cases, those infected with H5N1 had extensive physical contact with infected birds. Still, around 60% of humans known to have been infected with the current Asian strain of HPAI A(H5N1) have died from it, and H5N1 may mutate or reassort into a strain capable of efficient human-to-human transmission.

Poultry farming practices have changed due to H5N1.[36] The cost of poultry farming has increased, while the cost to consumers has gone down, due to fears from H5N1 driving demand below supply.[37]


  1. ^ "Epidemiology Report on Avian Influenza in Quarantine Premesis Essex, DEFRA, 11 Nov 2005
  2. ^ "Bird flu outbreak in United Kingdom reveals global vulnerabilities", JP Dudley BIOSCIENCE March 2006
  3. ^ "Swan tests confirm deadly virus", BBC News, 6 April, 2006
  4. ^ "Bird flu swan was from outside UK", BBC News, 11 April 2006
  5. ^ "Bird flu approaching Romanian border", FOCUS News Agency, January 25, 2007
  6. ^ "Britain Culls 159,000 Turkeys in Outbreak of H5N1 Bird Flu", Environment News Service, 05 February 2007
  7. ^ Bernard Matthews took 48 hours to report turkey deaths. The Evening Standard ( (2007-02-03). Retrieved on 2007-02-04.
  8. ^ "Vets work to contain bird flu (Video)", 2007-02-04. Retrieved on 2007-02-04. 
  9. ^ "Tests show bird flu is H5N1 virus", 2007-02-03. Retrieved on 2007-02-03. 
  10. ^ "Little risk for Bernard Matthews workers", Sarah Brealey, EDP 24, 05 February 2007
  11. ^ "Vet tests negative for bird flu", BBC News, 07 February 2007
  12. ^ "Clean-up begins at bird flu farm", BBC News, 06 February 2007
  13. ^ "Farm hit by bird-flu to reopen", Natalie Paris, Daily Telegraph, 12 December 2007
  14. ^ a b "Bernard Matthews faces prosecution for failures at bird flu plant", Philippe Naughton, Times Online, 16 February 2007
  15. ^ "String of flaws found at Bernard Matthews plant",John Vidal, The Guardian, 17 February 2007
  16. ^ "Avian flu outbreak is "exclusively a Bernard Matthews" problem", Farmers Weekly, 2 March 2007
  17. ^ McCarthy, Michael. "Bird flu may be linked to meat from Hungary, says Government", The Independent, February 9, 2007. 
  18. ^ "Bird flu plant imported turkey from Hungary", Charles Clover, The Daily Telegraph, 9 February 2007
  19. ^ "Hungary investigates British bird flu link", Reuters, 09 February 2007
  20. ^ " Britain is powerless to stop turkey imports", David Derbyshire, Daily telegraph, 12 February 2007
  21. ^ "Bird flu at farm not linked to Hungary", Natalie Paris, Daily Telegraph, 12 February 2007
  22. ^ "Tests confirm bird flu link to Hungary", John Vidal, The Guardian, 14 February 2007
  23. ^ "Did Matthews try to hide turkey imports?", Evening Standard, 12 February 2007
  24. ^ "Matthews: Not my fault", Victoria Ward, Daily Mirror, 15 February 2007
  25. ^ "UK poultry import bans", Pakistan Daily Times, February 09, 2007
  26. ^ "EU slams bans on British poultry", Mark Bridge, Times Online, February 06, 2007
  27. ^ "Bernard Matthews loses sales", Daily Telegraph, 14 February 2007
  28. ^ Bernard Matthews staff 'laid off'. BBC News.
  29. ^ Workers must be compensated for Bernard Matthews lay offs. Transport and General Workers' Union.
  30. ^ Berry, Mike (April 2007). "T&G union calls for more compensation for culled workforce after Bernard Matthews gets £600,000 for dead turkeys". Personnel Today.
  31. ^ "Bernard Matthews to get £600,000 compensation", Sarah Brealey, Norfolk Eastern Daily Press, 2 March 2007
  32. ^ "Anger at Bernard Matthews' £500,000 Bird Flu Pay-Out", Louise Male, Daily Mirror, 2 March 2007
  33. ^ "Bernard Matthews gets nearly £600,000 in bird flu compensation", Farmers Weekly, 19 April 2007
  34. ^ "Fury over Bernard Matthews compensation", Norwich Evening News, 20 April 2007
  35. ^ International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (2002). 46.0.1. Influenzavirus A. Retrieved on 2006-04-17.
  36. ^ Council on Foreign Relations
  37. ^ Poultry sector suffers despite absence of bird flu

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "2007_Bernard_Matthews_H5N1_outbreak". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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