Source AP ©

Britain: bird flu likely came from Hungarian poultry

The source of the bird flu outbreak on a British turkey farm has not been found, but it seems to be caused by poultry meat imported from Hungary, a government report said Thursday.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the H5N1 bird flu strain found on a farm in Holton, 130 miles (210 kilometers) northeast of London, in February was essentially identical to the strain that had earlier infected geese in southern Hungary.

The department's epidemiology report on the outbreak said that while "no specific proven source has been found," the disease could have come to Britain from Hungarian turkeys infected by wild birds that had also infected the geese.

The country's chief veterinary officer, Debby Reynolds, said the outbreak "appears to be the outcome of a series of normally low probability events and circumstances which cumulatively led to the introduction of disease."

The government also announced that the turkey processing firm hit by the outbreak, Bernard Matthews PLC, would receive almost 600,000 pounds (US$1.2 million; EUR880,000) in compensation for having to slaughter 159,000 healthy turkeys.

The payout was condemned by opposition politicians, who said Bernard Matthews bore some responsibility for the outbreak.

"Bearing in mind that there must have been a serious failure of biosecurity at the Bernard Matthews plant, many people will be absolutely astonished that no one will be held responsible for the outbreak," Conservative Party environment spokesman Peter Ainsworth said.

A government minister, Commons Leader Jack Straw, said "all of us are uncomfortable about the reports of high levels of compensation to Mr. Matthews' firm."

Health and safety officials have said no one will be prosecuted over the outbreak, and Bernard Matthews said it had now introduced new biosecurity measures, including a ban on imports from any country where bird flu was confirmed.

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 167 people across the world, but remains difficult for humans to catch.

Experts fear it could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a pandemic. Humans are only be at risk of catching bird flu if they come into close contact with infected birds.

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