To vaccinate or not - that is the question

Bird flu took centre stage at the National Farmers' Union annual conference this week, if not by content then by interest generated by delegates and the press.

The NFU's president appealed to the media not to destroy the British poultry industry by scaremongering while the Minister of Agriculture said she was confident the UK was well prepared for any outbreak of bird flu. And the Government's chief scientific advisor warned that the disease could be with Britain for some years.

Vaccination of poultry was neither agreed or ruled out by Secretary of State Margaret Beckett. Bird flu was a fluid situation and Government and industry had to be "light-footed." She said the vaccination policy was being kept under review. NFU president Tim Bennett sought to allay any fears over the union's position.

"We will follow the Government's scientific advice - reserving the right to cross-question it - but on scientific grounds. If that means vaccinating - we will vaccinate. I say to the media - you have a huge responsibility. You must report the facts, but you could destroy the British poultry industry by scaremongering."

The Government's chief scientific advisor, Professor Sir David King, later said that he expected bird flu to arrive in Britain and to remain for some years although he also felt that it would not spread in the same way as foot and mouth disease had in 2001.

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