The government has reassured shoppers that poultry products are completely safe following an outbreak of the potentially deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.
Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw insisted there was ‘absolutely’ no risk from eating poultry products following the emergence of the virus at the Bernard Matthews farm in Holton, Suffolk.
Speaking on GMTV, he said: ‘When we had the scare last year in Cellardyke in Scotland, there was a very small dip in poultry consumption in this country but then it came back up.
‘The British consumers have proved themselves to be much more sensible and less hysterical than some in other countries because they know that there is absolutely no risk from eating poultry products.’
But chicken and turkey farmers and processors are bracing themselves for a backlash against poultry meat in Britain.
Industry figures appealed to consumers to heed advice from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) which said no infected birds have entered the food chain.
Tom Copas, owner of Copas Traditional Turkeys, in Cookham, Berkshire, admitted some people may be reluctant to buy the meat at the height of the scare.
Mr Copas said: ‘It is the press of course that is putting up fears and making people concerned, but there is no sensible reason why they should be.
‘There are far more dangerous things in hospital. The public should concern themselves with those sorts of issues.’
Supermarkets moved quickly to reassure customers that turkey products were safe and the supply of them was unaffected.
A Tesco spokeswoman said the supermarket does not sell turkeys from the affected farm and all poultry products and eggs are unaffected.
She said: ‘The disease can in any event only be spread through direct contact with birds, and not through poultry products.’
An Asda spokesman said the supermarket does not stock birds from the affected farm. He added that bosses are closely monitoring the situation.
Morrisons said avian influenza is a disease of birds and only those in close contact with infected animals are at any risk.
A Waitrose spokeswoman said: ‘Bird flu is not a food safety issue.’ She added that high standards of biosecurity are in place at all the company’s farms.