The latest outbreak of bird flu in East Yorkshire is of a different strain from those of a few years ago (probably H5N8 rather than H5N1 although test results are awaited). There are recent cases in the Netherlands and Germany which are of this strain.
I’ve heard on the radio that the most likely means that bird flu got here was through migratory birds. That is quite possible although I noticed that the Defra statement doesn’t say anything like that so I ‘phoned the Defra Press Office to find out their view. I was told that they are still investigating every possibility, which doesn’t sound very much like ‘it’s the migratory birds who brought it here’ to me.
Here is the statement made by Liz Truss in the House of Commons yesterday and the questions from Maria Eagle on the subject. David Davis regards his constituency of Haltemprice and Howden in East Yorkshire as being ‘subject to bird migration’ which is an interesting way of looking at it.
I ‘phoned the RSPB too, and their spokesperson told me a couple of interesting things. First, that the Defra system set up years ago, and which worked well back in the old days, hasn’t worked so well this time. Defra vets told the world about the outbreak, and vets always blame wildlife for every disease (they must be taught this at vet school), long before the expert group on wild birds (involving I think RSPB, BTO, WWT and others). The RSPB first heard about the outbreak from the media and I guess that applied to other experts on wild birds. This isn’t very clever of Defra – they need all the expert help they can get, they’ve always had that help from wildlife NGOs, and that help has prevented them from making complete fools of themselves in the past. Doesn’t Ian Botham live somewhere not a million miles away – Defra will be consulting him no doubt.
The other thing that the RSPB told me was that the general view of the experts on wild birds was that it seemed unlikely, but not by any means impossible, that wild birds were responsible. You may have seen on the TV that this facility is a duck breeding farm with lots of sheds full of ducks. How does a wild bird force its way into such an establishment? Just flying over isn’t going to transmit the disease. There are no signs, yet, of die-offs of wild birds locally either.
I would just point out that the outbreak at the Bernard Matthews plant in Suffolk in 2007 was blamed on migratory birds for many days before the truth came out that the site had been receiving lorry loads of tons of partly processed turkey meat every week from Hungary (where there had been outbreaks of bird flu). See Fighting for Birds, pages 234-243, for that story.
No doubt, Defra is looking at what eggs and/or live birds have been imported into this site over the last couple of weeks, their country of origin and any possible links to other sites with outbreaks of disease.
Bird flu is back – and we’ll have to see how many of the lessons of the past have truly been learned by government.
Note: one paragraph has been deleted from this blog post because first, I got it a bit wrong, and then I got it a bit wrong again. So the simplest thing is just to take it out! Apologies!