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Bird 'flu: Defra in "dereliction of duty"

[Wednesday 22 February 2006]

AS EU agriculture ministers haggled in Brussels over ways of protecting poultry against an invasion of bird 'flu, the British Government came under devastating attack at home for alleged "dereliction of duty."

The onslaught came from the Soil Association, the lead organisation of the organic food movement, when it was revealed that the rural affairs ministry Defra has no stock of vaccines to protect poultry from the disease being brought into Europe by migrating birds.

At the Brussels talks, now entering their third day, no agreement has been reached because two major poultry producers, France and Holland, want domestic flocks vaccinated. Both countries have ordered their poultry farmers to bring their birds indoors.

Britain and Germany are opposed to vaccination because, they say, it makes it difficult for vets to diagnose a real outbreak of the disease. But then it emerged that Britain does not have has a stock of vaccination anyway - because Defra would introduce a mass culling programme.

This brings out eerie echoes of the row over foot and mouth five years ago, when many farmers wanted vaccination but Defra's predecessor, MAFF, went ahead with the slaughter of millions of cattle and sheep.

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