Science Minister George Freeman demands action on bird flu outbreak to tackle "urgent crisis"

  • Graham Stothard reports on region's concerns over avian flu.

A science minister has called on the government to get the worst outbreak of bird flu the country has ever seen under control as it has become an "urgent crisis".

There have been 160 cases of avian flu already this year, resulting in the culling of tens of thousands of birds.

George Freeman, the Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk and Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, said he believed the country should be on a "war footing" against the virus.

Writing to the Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey, Mr Freeman warned that strict enforced biosecurity and mandatory housing measures are "not enough".

He said concerned constituents had told him the situation was "completely out of control and getting worse by the day", as the outbreak had become an "urgent crisis".

After running rampant through wild bird populations on coastlines, particularly in the East of England, experts said it was "inevitable" that the outbreak would move further inland.

Earlier this week it was announced that a dead peregrine falcon in Higham Ferrers, North Northamptonshire had tested positive.

There are concerns a bird flu outbreak could be on its way to Godmanchester Nature Reserve as the virus makes its way across England. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust, which manages Godmanchester Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire, is expecting an outbreak in the months ahead.

Matt Hamilton, senior reserves manager at the trust, said: "It may already be here. It is pretty much inevitable.

"These birds are moving around. It's being detected.

"Of course only a small number of birds are ever actually tested by the government. But bird flu is all through the bird populations.

"It's just how virulent it is each year, and this is particularly bad, possibly the worst ever bird flu outbreak we've ever seen."

Mr Hamilton added that the virus was having a "really severe" impact on wild birds and that winter migrations could see birds in the north bring bird flu to places such as Godmanchester Nature Reserve.

Among birds, avian flu has a high mortality rate at around 50%.

There are already high case numbers at a time when there would normally be just a few - with experts concerned this could lead to an unprecedented death toll at its height.

Suffolk has seen numerous outbreaks so far in 2022, including at poultry company Gressingham Foods.

It had to cull its entire geese flock, spread over three farms, with duck and turkey operations also affected.

Even with the increased biosecurity measures in place by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra), they said it was "impossible" to stop the spread.

Andy Guy, a poultry expert for the NFU, said: "All farms, to my knowledge, are practising really good biosecurity measures to protect their birds.

Andy Guy, a poultry expert at the NFU, said it's been the "worst start to the avian influenza season that we could possibly imagine". Credit: ITV News Anglia

"This is an extremely infectious disease and a flock of 10,000 birds, within 24 hours, the vast majority of those birds will have it and may have died.

"The birds that are culled are the ones that are surviving. And very often that's a humane thing to put those birds down."

Spread of avian flu from birds to humans is incredibly rare and the Food Standards Agency said avian influenza posed a "very low" food safety risk.

Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

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