Sales hit by bird-flu

Tesco has reported a "significant drop" in sales of poultry following the outbreak of avian influenza (AI) at a Bernard Matthews turkey farm in Suffolk.

The retailer would not confirm reports of a "single digit" percentage drop, but insisted it was "significant".

Asda and Sainsbury's are reporting no change.

Bart Dalla Mura, commercial director of Bernard Matthews, said yesterday the next few days would determine whether consumer confidence remained firm.

He said: "We don't expect a deep consumer reaction so it remains to be seen in the next couple of days.

"It was one shed. There is no sign of any ill health anywhere else and we should just progress on. As far as Defra and everyone else is concerned it is contained."

He added that there was absolutely no risk to human health.

In February H5N1 hit France and sales of poultry fell by 30%.

Dalla Mura said: "It has been contained and we should get on with making sure the UK doesn't react like the French, because there is no need to."

Bernard Matthews has said it is now working towards restocking Holton farm where 159,000 turkeys have been culled.

Dalla Mura said: "Once it is cleared it will be restocked eventually. As far as we're concerned it's business as usual."

Defra has imposed a 3km protection zone around the farm and a 10km surveillance zone, which means poultry must be kept indoors and not moved. A wider restriction zone covers east Suffolk and south-east Norfolk and requires the isolation of poultry from wild birds and movements of poultry only under license.

A local vet was called to the farm last Tuesday after birds started to fall ill. By Thursday over 800 turkeys had died and Defra was informed. By Saturday the highly pathonogenic H5N1 strain of AI had been confirmed and gas chambers were brought in to destroy all the birds on the farm.

The cull was completed last night and all the carcases have now been taken to an incineration plant in Staffordshire.

An online MTJ poll reveals more than 80% now believe turkey sales will be adversely affected by the outbreak.

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