UK Farmers Union Calls For Ban On Imported Raw Poultry

Call comes as Britain tries to find where recent flu outbreak came from.

LONDON (AP) - A farmers' union has called for a ban on all raw imported poultry meat from countries infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus until the cause of the outbreak at a British poultry farm is established.

Scientists are investigating whether the British outbreak was caused by a consignment of dead turkeys imported from Hungary.

Britain's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is examining the transfer of partly processed birds from a Hungarian plant to a farm in Holton, 130 miles northeast of London, owned by Bernard Matthews PLC, Europe's biggest turkey producer.

The department said preliminary inquiries indicated the strain of H5N1 bird flu found in Britain was identical to the strain found last month in Hungary.

Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw said the government was investigating whether there were ''bio-security breaches'' at the British farm, where 159,000 turkeys were slaughtered after the outbreak was discovered.

Officials have said there are ''negligible'' risks to the public and poultry industry. Several countries, however, have banned British poultry imports in response.

Charles Bourns, chairman of the poultry board of the National Farmers' Union, told Channel 4 Television on Friday that if the H5N1 strain ''has come in from Hungary this time, then the measures that are being taken to prevent the disease entering the U.K. have broken down somewhere. Therefore, maybe the easiest way out of this situation would be to stop the importation of raw poultry meat from any country with H5N1 until the government has worked out how it got here.''

He said, ''I am not trying to scaremonger. I am just saying that logically we must stop this disease from spreading.''

The nearly 100-year-old union represents farmers and growers of England and Wales.

Hungary's deputy chief vet, Dr. Lajos Bognar, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio on Saturday that it has not been proved that the turkey plant in his country was the source of Britain's bird flu outbreak.

''Of course, it can be the same (virus), but I can say that the virus circulating in the birds - you can find this virus in other places also,'' he said.

Hungarian authorities are investigating a slaughterhouse 60 miles from a H5N1 outbreak believed to have trade links with a turkey farm in Hungary that Matthews owns.

''It is confirmed that there is a trade between this slaughterhouse and Bernard Matthews,'' said Bognar. ''He buys products from that slaughterhouse, so we are investigating the situation - documentation, registration.''

Movement of poultry - either live or dead - from an area where H5N1 bird flu had been found violates U.N. guidelines.

Bird flu has killed or prompted the culling of millions of birds worldwide since late 2003, when it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks. It has killed at least 165 people worldwide, but remains difficult for humans to catch. Experts fear it could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a global pandemic.

So far, most human cases have been traced to contact with sick birds.

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