Sunday, 4 February 2007

Turkey's Off

Turkeys, turkeys, everywhere...It's not been a good couple of years for Bernard Matthews, Britain's leading supplier of processed turkey products.

Back in 2003, in the face of increasing pressure from consumer advocates, some supermarkets stopped selling Bernard Matthews' "Turkey Twizzlers", a low quality, high-fat processed product highly popular with British schoolchildren.


A year later the Scottish devolved parliament introduced the three-year initiative "Hungry for Success" to put real ingredients back into school food and taking fat and sugar out. And in 2005 Jamie Oliver launched an attack on Sainsbury's (his own commercial sponsors) during a debate in London in support of his TV series "Jamie's School Dinners". A follow-up series was broadcast last year. All of this, of course, had a major impact on the processed food industry and Bernard Matthews in particular. After extensive reformulation of its product range and a great deal of marketing effort, the company was able to report last July that sales were "bouncing back" to the £456m figure of 2004.

The deadly H5N1 avian flu virusThen, early yesterday morning, came news of a massive outbreak of avian flu at the Bernard Matthews farm in Holton, Suffolk, with 2,600 turkeys dying during the previous few days.

And later in the day came the news nobody wanted to hear - that tests have confirmed the avian flu to be the deadly H5N1 virus, potentially fatal if passed on to humans.

Last night government officials started a massive cull of 160,000 turkeys at the farm, transporting the carcasses in sealed trucks to be incinerated. The incident raises all sorts of questions about factory farming, food hygiene and the increased threat of pandemics that easy and rapid communications have brought to our planet. I'm all in favour of putting an end to factory farming and returning to free-range farming practices, despite the impact that this would have on food prices. It's a perverse irony that the British public is probably at less risk of contracting H5N1 given the containment afforded by factory farming than it would be if our turkeys were allowed to roam free.

2 comments:

Marieke said...

In Holland, a crowded land with 16 million people, we have something like 400.000.000 chickens that are slaughtered each year. Because of the situation in the UK at the moment all the animals are kept inside. I so much agree with what you say...but few people are prepared to pay more for animal welfare. If only they would eat less meat of better quality...would safe them a few pounds in more ways than one!

Trig said...

I couldn't agree more. Encouraged by the supermarkets we have all taken cheap food for granted. That means lowering of quality and increased risk of health problems. I wish we could all learn the true value of properly raised food, but I doubt somehow that it is going to happen in the near future.


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