PRIVATE EYE - Muckspreader Feb 28 2007Anyone worried that Defra and Mr Miliband might not be just the chaps to be standing in the front line to protect us all from a pandemic of bird 'flu leaving millions dead might consider the following sequence of events.
February 1: Defra vets are called to Bernard Matthews' concentration camp for turkeys at Holton, where birds are falling down dead at nineteen to the dozen.It's a good thing the odds against bird 'flu becoming a human-to-human disease are so many billions to one.
February 2: Defra confirms that the cause is bird 'flu, slaps on a '3 kilometre protection zone and a '10 kilometre surveillance zone' under EU rules, within which all free-range poultry must be kept indoors.
February 4: having confirmed virus as H5NI, Defra begins gassing 160,000 birds, chucking their carcases into trucks to be taken to Staffordshire for incineration. When asked whether it might not be dangerous to cart infected carcases 100 miles under no more protection than plastic sheeting, Defra insists that dead birds cannot spread infection.
February 5: Miliband pronounces that the 'most likely' source of the outbreak is wild birds (presumably seagulls clustering round the turkey shed to excrete infectious droppings into the air vents).
February 8: a Defra vet claims that the source of the virus could be infected turkey meat imported by Matthews from Hungary. But, hang on, hadn't Defra just said that the virus could not possibly be spread by dead carcasses? And hadn't Miliband said that the 'most likely' source was wild birds? Do these people actually have any idea what they are saying or doing?
February 9: Matthews denies any link between Suffolk and Hungary, but agrees to halt any 'movements of poultry' to or from Hungary just in case. Sales of his turkeys slump by 25 percent, as consumers discover that the 'taste of Norfolk' is in fact the 'taste of Budapest'.
February 11: Miliband rejects any ban on imports of poultry from Hungary saying this would provoke retaliation against Britain from other EU countries, threatening our £370 million a year export trade. So we now realise that, even though there appears to have been a major system failure in the paper-trail which is meant to ensure that imported birds don't spread disease from one EU country to another, there is nothing we can do about it, because that would be to interfere with the trade which spread the disease in the first place.
February 12: the owner of several large chicken units near Holton is called by a Defra official to ask whether he has 'any poultry?'. 'Yes', says the owner, '250,000 birds, all within your restricted area'. It seems that ten days after the crisis began, Defra still has no idea what other poultry might be in proximity to the Matthews puten-lager, any more than it really knows how the virus arrived in Suffolk. But this doesn't prevent Defra giving the go-ahead for the Holton plant to resume processing poultry.
February 13: Defra confirms that the virus strain found in Suffolk is '99.96 percent' similar to that found in geese in Hungary, and maintains that poultry-to-poultry transmission was the most likely route of infection, but that to ban 'meat imports' from Hungary would be 'disproportionate'. Noticeably, however, they say nothing about banning imports of young turkey poults. They must be sure that such a thing could never have happened because that would be illegal. And we can't do anything to imperil that £370 million a year export trade, can we?
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