Effect Measure

One turkey sandwich, H5N1 on the side, please

There is no bird flu in the UK. The biosecurity is too good for that to happen. OK. There is bird flu in the UK but it is well confined. It must have gotten there from wild birds. Biosecurity is too good for anything else. OK. It might have gotten to the UK on a truck from Hungary where there is bird flu in poultry. But it’s well confined. OK. It’s not well confined, but just affects turkeys in one small shed on one farm. OK. It somehow got out of that shed and infected birds in three other sheds on that farm. But it’s confined to that farm. OK. It’s possible it got loose into wild animals. We don’t know. But there isn’t any risk to humans because it didn’t get into the food supply. OK. It probably got into the food supply, but it’s not dangerous to consumers because if you cook the food properly the virus is inactivated. So it’s not necessary to pull turkeys from supermarket shelves. OK. That’s the story so far (see here, here, here):

The Food Standards Agency confirmed today that it was investigating the possibility that turkey meat contaminated by bird flu at a Bernard Matthews poultry farm has entered the human food chain.

The government’s chief scientist, Sir David King, said the agency would be considering ordering supermarkets to remove packaged turkey from shelves after it emerged that Bernard Matthews had been transporting turkey meat from Hungary to the Suffolk farm where the H5N1 strain of the virus was discovered.


Sir David confirmed that the latest scientific findings suggested the “most likely scenario” was that the virus had been brought into the UK by dead poultry rather than by wild birds, as originally thought.


Mr Bradshaw said the government was investigating whether there had been “bio-security breaches” at the plant.


“As part of the investigation into what might have caused the outbreak of bird flu in a Suffolk poultry farm, the agency will check that no infected meat has got into food,” the FSA said in a statement.

“Our advice that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk remains unchanged.(The Guardian)

OK. Forget that other stuff. Where are we? Authorities in the UK aren’t sure how the virus got into Europe’s largest turkey producer. If it wasn’t wild birds, then it was a pretty big failure in the vaunted biosecurity measures in two countries, Hungary and the UK. The trucks that carried the birds also passed through numerous countries in the EU. Once ensconced in the UK there is now the specter it got off the farm via wildlife. So far there is no evidence of this, but the issue has been raised. Infected meat likely got into the food chain. But there’s no risk to consumers.



  1. #1 sneeuwpop
    February 10, 2007

    Ha. That’s the exact opposite approach of the U.S. media, where if there is the slightest risk of danger, they yell “PANIC!!! everybody is going to DIE!!!”

  2. #2 M. Randolph Kruger
    February 10, 2007

    Well it could be a combination of DEFRA and the FSA too. Sounds like the CVO award to Bernard Matthews is going to be worth something like an OJ Simpson Heisman. DEFRA contracted basically the equivalent of the bird watchers club in the US to conduct the surveys last year for bird flu. Not only did they not find bird flu, they found less instance of it than they had in previous years of testing.

    Its almost laughable except that its so serious. The metaphor if I might paint it is that the cat is now in charge of the canaries, only the cat finds out that this is a mutant, psycho-freak bird with teeth on it like a T-Rex on speed. Once this takes hold, the people will likely take matters into their own hands in these farms. Improperly cooked turkey? Nah, that never happens either.

    I am interested if Revere thinks that once there was a case of GI infection that the WHO would raise the pandemic level? It would clearly point to a major change correct?

  3. #3 carl
    February 10, 2007

    Hi – It was also amusing to see some FSA mucky muck insist (I think in the Independent or it might have been the Guardian)that there were zero of cases of anyone anywhere ever being infected by eating cooked Turkey. This was to the point that even if it was in the food supply it was not significant. I am not an public health person like most of you are but I was a practicing paramedic for several years (professor & paramedic I was not a normal child). Anyway even with my very limited medicial knowledge I know that medical folks just don’t use absolutist language like “zero” and “never.” Any if I remember correctly there were several cases in vietnam involving cooked foul (perhaps not Turkey but foul nonetheless). Some of it was, I think uncooked blood products, but I remember several cases where the source was alleged as the family eating the sick/dead chicken. So I suspect the FSA fellow ‘protestest too much’ in his denials.

  4. #4 debi
    February 10, 2007

    I hesitate to write this. Never have written before. Has anyone postulated that the owner of the farm/processing plant brought the virus to his property deliberately? I realize it is an horrific thought. He is being compensated, right? Full market value? Without all the hassle and expense of actually processing the “product”. Perhaps we are dealing more with opportunism run dangerouly amok, than ineptness at the control points.
    Insane capitalistic opportunity or false pride in our our ability to control nature? I believe both can fall under the heading of human nature….or perhaps more gently put…human tendancy.

  5. #5 Nancy
    February 10, 2007

    Debi, Corporations think opportunistically but for the long-term. This would be a a one-off that has the potential to be very damaging for the long-term to this company’s reputation. From backyard flocks that provide a family’s main protein source to multinational corporations that have shareholders awaiting dividends, the stakes are too high, IMO, to deliberately infect operations for a flash-in-the pan payoff, so I doubt that’s what is happening.

  6. #6 K
    February 10, 2007

    sneeuwpop – the US media will cry danger up until their is the liklihood of real danger to corporate profits. So they cry danger (which helps them move forward their agenda of mandatory tagging of livestock – which hurts small farmers not large farmers) but when an actual case of disease such as Mad Cow emerges they say “NOT TO WORRY” just like Britain is. Not to worry that an Alabama cow died of Mad Cow because hey it was over 10 years (we think) so it was before the food ban, therefore our food ban is working (do they mention that by their reasoning the cow had Mad Cow for 10 years without symptoms and therefore undetected and therefore there may be many other such cows out their giving milk, giving birth, and being made into hamburger when they stop giving – do they say that – NO THEY DO NOT). So if we actually get a case of H5N1 in a flock here they will be spouting the same stuff as Britain is. Corporatism rules.

  7. #7 debi
    February 10, 2007

    OK, so I’m risking introducing myself to this site as Debi Downer…

    Thank you Nancy, I better understand now that it would not behoove the owners/stockholders to introduce birdflu to their stock. But I still have this nagging feeling…so I googled Bernie.

    So with this new understanding, continuing to (morbidly) entertain the possibility that it was deliberate, it would have to be disgruntled workers longing to see the company suffer. I wonder how supportive the Matthews family was when a few of their employees were prosecuted last September for playing Turkey baseball?


    Doesn’t exactly sound like a bunch of contented employees, with sound integrity and
    and a passion for the job…. Not sure that 200 hours of community service would right the state of mind that would invent, let alone enjoy, such a game.

    Sorry, I will try not to entertain this any further in my own head, let alone on this forum.
    I have great respect for the editor…enjoy his viewpoints and ability to remain upbeat with such heavy topics. I will now attempt to do the same.

  8. #8 revere
    February 10, 2007

    debi: At this point we don’t know how the virus got into the farm and intentional introduction isn’t impossible, but it seems an implausible explanation. The company and the industry loses big time, so the explanation that it was someone who didn’t care and only wanted to hurt the company (aka, disgruntled employee) would require some malcontent to have access to the virus. I don’t know where they would get it from. So of the possible explanations, this seems to me one of the least plausible. However don’t be shy about speaking your mind here. No one else seems to be. :)

  9. #9 Lisa the GP
    February 10, 2007

    Pass the tinfoil.

    Except for the absence of boastful claiming by some group we’ve never heard of wanting its minute on the news, this kind of thing could be a form of economic terrorism. Attack the food supply of your enemy and spread panic. Attacking the food supply has been used in war before.

    Anyone deliberately wanting bird-type virus could easily go to Jakarta right now and find what they’re looking for among birds without that much difficulty.

  10. #10 Lea
    February 10, 2007

    debi: Abstract thoughts are refreshing to me, liked reading what you wrote and can entertain the disgruntled workers in my own mind. My husband’s job teaches that as the number one threat.
    revere: Will we ever get the straight poop? no, because fear controls the minds in and of man.

  11. #11 K
    February 10, 2007

    Given that B Matthews first denied any back and forth between his British operation and Hungarian operation and then admitted finally that some partially processed meat did come, we can I think be fairly certain that somewhere along the line biosecurity was not tight. Truck tires, employees’ shoes are possible culprits. I still don’t see how the virus in meat could get to the live birds unless an employee worked in processing, got infected and then worked in the sheds. Unless of course he was feeding some of that partially processed meat to the turkeys in the sheds. Turkeys and chickens will eat just about anything including other turkeys and chickens – the cutting off of 1/3 of the top beak that is routinely done is to avoid canibalization in the overcrowded sheds. They eat eggs, baby mice, any torn open rodent, bugs of all sorts, their own poop at times, etc. BTW these turkeys spend 12 to 26 weeks on the original litter put in the sheds. As they grow and poop the poop just piles up and they walk on it and breath the ammonia fumes until slaughter date. Just thought that would help folks decide what to have come Thanksgiving or Christmas!

    Whatever the mode of infection it seems pretty clear that Mr. Matthews was cutting corners on biosecurity for the sake of the almighty buck (well pound in this case). Britain is trying (vainly perhaps) to contain the damage to the poultry industry.

  12. #12 The-Best-Bird-Flu-Blogs-Team
    February 10, 2007

    Hey Debi, love your mind!

    Are you a writer?

    As far as the UK Government’s managing of this problem is concerned, here is a blog:



  13. #13 Victoria
    February 10, 2007

    The British are so reserved and understated, don’t you think?

  14. #14 Jody Lanard M.D.
    February 10, 2007

    Once again, I will make the Modest Proposal I have made to every government agency which has tried to assure the public that “properly cooked poultry is perfectly safe:”

    If the Health Ministers truly want the public to believe that THEY believe this, they should devote some extra resources to properly cooking the infected and healthy nearby culled poultry, and then distribute it to government-run cafeterias at agency offices, schools, hospitals, the military, etc.

    As I repeatedly tell them, they should literally eat their words.

    No takers yet. Big surprise — not.

  15. #15 Darin
    February 10, 2007

    Jody, I like it. There’s a small history of people showing that things aren’t dangerous by putting their own person on the line e.g. immunizations, tomatoes. The UK did compensate the guy for the birds, so they should by all rights own the birds.

    Waste not, want not.

  16. #16 caia
    February 10, 2007

    Dr. Lanard: Quite.

    Actually, I’d be a lot more open to eating well-cooked infected chicken than to cooking it myself. Although I’m not sure I’d trust these turkeys to cook it properly (and not recontaminate it after), any more than I’d trust a cafeteria.

    I’ve been having “Sandman and Lanard” moments since it came out that there was “a Hungarian connection”, contrary the environment minister’s claim. “This is how you ensure no one trusts you in the future,” I thought.

    *hums* …And though they may’ve been hidden by a canny businessman and agrarian, I can tell that they were born: Hungarian!

  17. #17 M. Randolph Kruger
    February 11, 2007

    LIsa-Got a briefing on that only a few weeks ago…Xmas or just before. Slip on a mask, find a dead or dying chicken, pigeon or something and gut his lungs out. Bring said lungs back thru customs (hey they’ll check those shoes but not your person) iced down in a cooler pack in your shirt in a double baggie.

    Visit your local Tyson or Pilgrims pride or Walmart display case and either dribble blood into or puncture the chicken packs with sliced and diced lung tissue. Then we all find out if its okay to eat fully cooked or not. Time delay in getting here would be a factor but for those committed individuals, well they can be resourceful now cant they?

    Before you go off on giving them ideas, it was found in the apartment of the mastermind of the 9/11 plot. They were actively seeking Ebola for that.

  18. #18 Tim France
    February 11, 2007

    Re. eat their words, this takes me back to about ten years ago when the BSE scare first broke in the UK. Many countries banned UK beef imports, which was claimed by the (then Tory government) to be scientifically unsound because efforts had been mad to take ‘steps’ to keep infected beef out of the human food chain. Right.

    To make the point, a member of the government, Malcom Rifkind …[I think he was agriculture secretary or something, but can’t be sure now – maybe foreign secetary, agriculture was under the unfortunately named Douglas Hogg] …. appeared on TV news eating a beef burger. What seemed awful at the time was that he also saw fit to take his young daughter along too and have her eat a whopper on camera. Wonder how they are doing?

    Shame it’s not Chirstmas time – that would really put the cat among the …. well, turkeys.

  19. #19 anon
    February 11, 2007

    they changed their mind as more and more sequences
    came in and these showed that the Hungarian and English
    viruses were almost the same.
    This was obviously the key-argument in the whole affair.
    How could that be missed in this blog and the 17 replies
    so far ?

  20. #20 revere
    February 11, 2007

    anon: I noted it in an early comment. The way they phrased it, “This could very well be the identical virus” wasn’t useful to me. Either it is or it isn’t. I know it “could very well” be identical. There are have conflicting reports so I am just waiting to see what the outcome is.

  21. #21 anon
    February 11, 2007

    see here:
    for a more extensive list of government “phrases”
    about the sequences.

    I guess the several segments didn’t come in all at once.
    Maybe they only had HA first on 3.Febr., which maybe
    had 1 or two differences.
    Then the other segments were sequenced and it became more and more clear that there are indeed only very few differences in total.
    And also, after the Karo-debacle they probably
    wanted to make 2nd tests and controls first
    before drawing conclusions.
    But even if it was this way, they should have
    been clearer about the prelimary results.
    Just counting the numbers of mutations and telling us.

  22. #22 pogo'smom
    February 11, 2007

    Nowhere have I noticed that anyone has drawn any conclusions about how the virus got from some infected areas of Hungary into the SaGa Hungarian turkey product.
    Is it likely that the Hungarian turkeys were shipped to a slaughterhouse that had previously slaughtered infected geese? The slaughter house was 30 k (other reports say 60 or 160 k) away from the BM/SaGa facility, and 19 k away from infected geese. If BM would ship birds 30k to be slaughtered, would not some of the infected geese have been shipped 19k to be slaughtered?
    Also, since the geese in the region had been culled, is it logical that the reason the slaughterhouse was available to BM was due to the fact that they may have been more desperate for any kinds of work to process? BM may have wanted to increase slaughter capacity to take advantage of selling turkeys to a depleated poultry market, or to slaughter turkeys before the virus reached their turkey sheds?
    Finally, is it possible that people who worked in the culling of the geese may have later worked in the same slaughter house? Or even sought jobs and been posted to the Suffolk plant? Or equipment used for hauling and processing the geese may have been used for hauling and processing turkeys?
    There are already very strict recommendations for poultry growers to avoid spread of most types of Avian flu, and newcastles, etc. by restricting any movement of unsanitized equipment or people from facility to facility. I suspect that may not be the case where the geese were raised.

  23. #23 revere
    February 11, 2007

    p’s mom: We haven’t discussed it here because we don’t usually do that much breaking news, especially when the information is still evolving. But there has been considerable discussion, I believe, in the news stories about Hungary when that happened, not so much, as you say, regarding the UK event.

  24. #24 Jody Lanard M.D.
    February 11, 2007

    Tim, in the UK mad cow episode, it was Ag Minister John Gummer, who fed a hamburger to his four-year-old daughter Cordelia.

    This is now known, in risk communication circles, as “doing a Gummer.”

    Interestingly, it was indeed Malcolm Rifkind, the UK foreign secretary, who said in 1996 that “his government would retaliate against other members of the European Union unless they promptly lifted the worldwide ban on British beef.” (International Herald Tribune, http://tinyurl.com/273g48)

    Now in 2007, UK officials have said that they are hesitant to broadly ban the import of Hungarian poultry — out of fear that other EU members would retaliate against THEM!

    For a better way of avoiding country-wide import bans, check out the agreement Singapore has with Malaysia regarding the accountable monitoring of “disease free zones” (http://tinyurl.com/25rhwl). It might not always work, but it reduces the understandable intense pressure for country-wide bans in situations like the UK’s.

  25. #25 Lisa the GP
    February 11, 2007

    Just to add icing to the absurdity, the Hungarians are now pitching a wobbly because after the moratorium on shipping any live birds or eggs out of the infected farm had been placed, the brits sent the hungarians some previously-slaughtered turkey meat that had been in storage in the building where the infected turkeys were gassed.

    That is, meat in storage + live infected turkeys –> meat in storage + dead infected turkeys –>ship the meat in storage to Hungary and the dead turkeys to the incinerator.

    Whee. (sarcasm)

  26. #26 k
    February 11, 2007

    pogo’smom – good questions – here is another thought – the hungarian geese may have been infected by wild birds. Those same wild birds may have infected the turkeys on SaGa farms (I bet their sheds there are less well kept up and biosecurity practiced by employees less well enforced – after all something has to make the Hungarian turkeys enough cheaper that BM will grow some there and truck them to Britain).

    What I still don’t get is how it got from the partially processed meat into BM’s live bird sheds in the UK. Do we know for absolute sure that the partially processed meat was infected. Stories are conflicting.

    Perhaps the truck drivers also drive for the geese farmers. Perhaps the truck drivers have goose shit on their feet and a sweetheart working in the UK turkey sheds? I am sure Mr. Matthews has not told all yet.

  27. #27 K
    February 11, 2007

    Now they tell us that they tested birds in the rest of B Matthews sheds on the infected farm and found infected but not sick birds in 3 sheds. If I am not mistaken there are at least 7,000 birds per shed. Do you think they tested each and every bird in each shed? I think not. So how can they clear the rest of the sheds as being uninfected?

  28. #28 Susan Och
    February 11, 2007

    Debi, I also thought of a self-inflicted infection in the context of rising feed prices. Get reimbursed now before the market catches you with more birds than you can afford to finish?

    It really doesn’t make sense, but there’s a lot of things about this system of trucking birds, dead or alive, back and forth across continents. At least when you screw up, you can blame the wild geese.

  29. #29 Susan Och
    February 11, 2007

    I meant to say that there’s a lot of things that don’t make sense about the system of trucking birds around between continents. I get dizzy just thinking about it.