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Letter from Peter Ainsworth MP to David Miliband Feb 9th 2007

Dear David,

I am writing to you regarding the recent outbreak of Avian Influenza in Suffolk.

I appreciate that this is a complex issue and that investigations are continuing.

As you know, I have considerable admiration for the way that DEFRA officials, Suffolk County Council, Waveney District Council and Suffolk police have handled matters at and around the scene of the outbreak.

However, I hope you will agree that, in view of the public interest in this issue and the subsequent information which has appeared in the media, there is a need for the Government to clarify a number of issues.

I hope you will also agree that the present climate of speculation and rumour is deeply unhelpful to the UK poultry industry and to public confidence in poultry products.

I am therefore writing to request that you make a public statement at the earliest possible opportunity in order to provide the fullest possible account of what has occurred and of the potential risks to the industry and the public. This is particularly important as we have not heard directly from you since your statement on Monday.

I would be most grateful for answers to the following questions:

(1) On what date prior to Thursday 2nd February did the most recent consignment of semi-processed poultry or other poultry products arrive from Hungary to the Bernard Matthews plant in Suffolk?

(2) When was the Food Standards Agency, or DEFRA, first informed of the existence of regular consignments of poultry meat from Hungary to the Bernard Matthews plant in Suffolk?

(3) Has it been possible for samples of meat from the most recent consignment of poultry meat from Hungary to be analysed for evidence of the H5N1 infection?

(4) Has produce from that consignment entered the human food chain?

(5) Precisely when did Bernard Matthews advise DEFRA that they had received recent consignments of poultry meat from Hungary?

(6) Why did you not take the opportunity of your statement to Parliament on Monday to refer to the regular consignment of poultry meat from Hungary arriving at the Bernard Matthews plant in Suffolk?

(7) Why did Lord Rooker make no mention of the Hungary connection in the Lords yesterday when he had the opportunity to do so?

(8) What representations were received from Bernard Matthews' legal advisors regarding the disclosure of their client's contacts between Hungary and Suffolk?

(9) If information regarding the above was thought at the time to be commercially sensitive, what account did you take of the balance between commercial sensitivity and the public interest, including the interests of the poultry farming industry?

(10) Is there evidence of any kind of a link between an H5N1 infected zone in Hungary, product and packaging from that zone, and the Bernard Matthews plant in Suffolk?

(11) When did Bernard Matthews notify DEFRA of the spread of the infection from 1 shed to 3 others? Was there any evidence of unusual morbidity rates in the other sheds prior to the 2nd February 2007?

(12) When did DEFRA first hear that the H5N1 virus had been present in sheds other than the one previously identified?

(13) Are you satisfied that Bernard Matthews has offered at all times complete and timely information?

(14) Will Bernard Matthews be held liable if damage to the poultry industry occurs due to lax bio-security at their plants?

(15) Will the taxpayer be required to compensate Bernard Matthews in the event that the company is found to be in breach of bio-security regulations.

(16) What action has been taken to offer anti-viral drugs to workers at Holden who may have been in contact with birds in the 3 sheds previously not believed to have bee contaminated with H5N1?

(17) Is there any evidence that Bernard Matthews has breached British health and safety or bio-security laws and what action does he propose to take if they have?

(18) What discussions has DEFRA, or other Government agencies, had with their counterparts in Hungary with regard to the sources of poultry meat imported into the United Kingdom and when did they first make contact?

Given the understandable levels of both industry and consumer concern, I would appreciate a statement answering these concerns at the earliest possible opportunity.

As Parliament is in Recess this week, a personal statement from your office or a written reply to this letter would be much appreciated.

Yours sincerely,
Peter Ainsworth MP
Shadow Secretary of State, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Peter Ainsworth MP



































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