BRITISH scientists are to fly out to the Far East later this week to begin a detailed study of the potentially lethal avian flu virus as anxiety grew amongst British farmers and food producers that we are facing another foot-and-mouth type crisis.
Government officials spent the weekend trying to avert a growing sense of panic as another outbreak of the disease was found in swans in Romania. This is the time of the year when literally millions of migrating birds are on the move, many of them coming to the UK.
The flu has been known to be spreading into humans in South East Asia for at least two years and, as in foot and mouth, the British government is being accused in many quarters of doing too little too late.
The Chief Scientist, Sir Donald King, appealed for calm this morning, saying that there was a danger of precipitating a crisis which might never arrive. So far, there have only been two known cases of the flu spreading from human to human and the vast majority of the Eastern cases were amongst people who regularly deal with poultry and other birds.
Although the Government has ordered 14 million doses of a vaccine which might offer partial protection, only two million have been delivered and the remainder might not arrive for another year.
Poultry farming is not a huge business in the Yorkshire Dales but hundreds of farms keep small free-range flocks for personal use or to supply local villages. For them, fear of another massive cull is bringing back memories of the foot and mouth disaster.
In the meantime, Defra is urging all people with poultry to exercise great care with their biodiversity measures.