Poultry breeders across the United Kingdom are losing millions of pounds in export sales due to the time being taken to cleanse the Bernard Matthews growing sheds following the infection with the H5N1 strain of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (AI) virus. After an AI outbreak, legislation requires poultry litter from houses to be stacked up and composted for 6 weeks (42 days). This should be followed by two meticulous cleansing and ‘de-greasing’ operations conducted at an interval of 7 days. Finally, the houses should be left empty and locked up for 21 days.

The UK will not regain its AI-free status until 3 months have elapsed after the 21-day lock-up period. In the meantime, the country’s poultry producers with export markets outside the European Union (EU) are languishing and losing millions of pounds because many are not taking UK poultry or poultry products. Some are accepting UK poultry but not from farms that were in the restricted area around the outbreak site. East Anglia is core region of the UK poultry industry.

According to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), the delay has already cost the nation’s poultry breeding industry over UK£25 million in lost exports of grand-parent and great-grand-parent stock.

There are issues surrounding disposal of the poultry litter because it cannot be spread on local farmland. A local power station that uses poultry litter as fuel has declined to take consignments from the Bernard Matthews Holton farm for fear of upsetting other poultry producers who supply the plant.

The Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has produced its final report into the outbreak. It claims that infected turkey brought onto the Holton site from Hungary is the most plausible explanation but it is unable conclusively to identify a chain of events as proof. Bernard Matthews will not face prosecution for lapsed biosecurity.

In accordance with existing legislation aimed at encouraging early reporting of AI, Bernard Matthews is collecting £600,000 in compensation for culling the healthy birds in the flock of 159,000. This has provoked widespread disapproval throughout the UK. While Bernard Matthews continues to clean-up, hundreds of UK poultry breeders and producers are losing money at an alarming rate.