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Diplomatic row over raw meat shipped from Matthews plant to Continent

by 5m Editor
13 February 2007, at 11:16am

UK - Six lorryloads of turkey meat sent to Hungary last week from the Bernard Matthews plant at the centre of the avian flu outbreak were raw and may have returned the H5N1 virus to Central Europe.

The revelation immediately sparked a political and diplomatic row between London and Budapest. Miklos Suth, the Hungarian chief vet, said that he was outraged by the consignment of raw meat from an infected zone.

Poultry industry chiefs and farmers were incensed by the move and believed that it would lead to a collapse of consumer confidence in all turkey and chicken, especially as the route of the infection from Hungary to Suffolk has still not been established.

The news came as it was confirmed last night that Bernard Matthews had been given permission to reopen the abattoir part of his processing unit at Holton, Suffolk, where 160,000 birds were culled to halt the spread of the disease a week ago. Supermarkets report that the biggest loss in sales is for Bernard Matthews branded products and buyers are privately reporting to industry sources a drop of 50 per cent in the company’s products. Other poultry sales are 10 per cent down.

There also appears to be a North-South divide over the scare: many more shoppers in London and the South East are shunning Bernard Matthews meat than those in the North East and North West.

The Food Standards Agency is still searching documents and meat held in cold stores to check whether any possible infected meat has entered the food chain.

The conduct of Bernard Matthews itself is under increasing scrutiny. One Whitehall official described “quiet rage” over delays by the company in handing over transport documents listing the consignments that have travelled between Britain and Hungary. It took three days for the company to accede to requests for information.

A senior executive at the company had told ministers that meat from Hungary came only from the Sarkov plant, more than 100 miles away from the restricted zone. It was a government meat-hygiene inspector who spotted a label revealing that meat had come from an abattoir in Kecskemet, just outside the H5N1 zone.

Source: TimesOnline

5m Editor