Bio-lapse at BM

The bird flu outbreak at a Bernard Matthews farm in Suffolk was down to bio-security lapses within the company, according to environment secretary David Miliband.

He told BBC1's Sunday AM programme: ""There has obviously been a lapse in bio-security because the poultry has got from Hungary to the UK to the processing plant and it has got form the processing plant to the turkey shed."

However, he defended the decision to allow Hungarian turkey meat imports to continue, even after the outbreak of bird flu was confirmed at a Bernard Matthews farm in Suffolk.

He said blocking imports would have breached EU rules and risked continent-wide retaliation against the UK's poultry industry.

He denied misleading Parliament about the suspected Hungarian link to the bird flu outbreak, insisting that he kept MPs informed of the latest advice the government was receiving from scientists.

The Sunday Times today reported that the government allowed the company to continue importing turkey meat from the bird flu-hit region of Hungary even though it suspected the area was the source of the British outbreak.

The paper claimed a consignment of 20t of turkey meat was imported from Hungary, three days after bird flu was confirmed at the Suffolk plant.

Government inspectors knew in advance that Bernard Matthews intended to import the meat from an area near the outbreak, but took no action, it added.

However, a Defra spokesman said that the import of the meat was "perfectly legal", as it came from outside a 10km exclusion zone and a 30km restriction zone around the site of the Hungarian case.

On Sunday AM, Miliband was asked whether Defra and experts from the FSA had been given the information from Bernard Matthews in a "completely frank" way.

He said: "We have been working with them since the notification of the outbreak of bird flu on February 1," he said.

"We are going through at the moment all of the information they have provided to us.

"... there has clearly been a lapse in bio-security. Our officials at Defra, the Food Standards Agency and the Health Protection Agency are engaged in a very detailed, but necessarily complex, investigation including working with the Hungarian authorities and with the Bernard Matthews company.

"We are undertaking that in a very, very detailed way at the moment. We have to make sure that we find out the origin of the bio-security lapse."

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