Bird Flu Alarm

2006-02-26-Avian flu may force McNuggets off menu

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-02-26-Avian flu may force McNuggets off menu

McDonald's is drawing up contingency plans to remove chicken burgers and nuggets from its menu and a British restaurant has dropped wildfowl as concern about avian flu grows.

Confirmation that the H5N1 bird flu virus has struck a turkey farm in the south-east of France, bringing the spectre of an outbreak in Britain closer, has led to what is being criticised as a "knee-jerk" reaction by some food outlets.

The City Inn Hotel in Birmingham became the first to announce that wildfowl would be dropped from restaurant menus as a "precautionary measure" for the foreseeable future.

Carl Littlewood, the general manager, said: "All our poultry comes from the UK and is totally traceable. On the basis of current scientific evidence, avian flu does not pose a food safety risk for any consumer. However, we have taken this stance purely as a precautionary measure."

Fast-food chain McDonald's also confirmed last night that it was investigating the supply of alternatives to its chicken dishes.

A spokeswoman told the Sunday Telegraph: "We have a European task force working on contingency plans for our supply chain and, although the details of that plan must remain confidential, it involves potentially introducing alternative items into our menus to replace the chicken.

"In the meantime, however, we are confident of the safety of our products because we use only suppliers who comply with our high standards of traceability and keep their chickens indoors."

The measures have been condemned by farmers, who fear a collapse in consumer confidence that could devastate the industry. The Food Standards Agency said last night that its message to consumers - that poultry and poultry products were safe - remained unchanged, despite confirmation of the virus in France.

"Currently the UK is free from the avian flu virus," a spokesman said. "The World Health Organisation advises that in areas free from the disease, poultry can be prepared and eaten as usual with no fear of acquiring infection.

"Even if the virus is present in meat or eggs, it is easily killed by cooking. Even if it is still present after cooking, the virus is destroyed by saliva and gastric juices."

Despite reassurances to French consumers from President Jacques Chirac, sales of poultry in France have dropped by as much as 30 per cent. In an indication of the global impact of the French case, Japan temporarily suspended imports of French poultry, including foie gras, meat and internal organs.

Last week the Government awarded contracts worth £43 million to British pharmaceutical firms to make 3.5 million doses of a vaccine to protect humans against the H5N1 strain.

The virus has killed more than 90 people, mostly in Asia, since late 2003. It can be caught by humans who handle infected birds but is not yet known to have passed from one person to another.

Understanding Avian Influenza