Politician 'concerned' at deepening bird flu crisis in county

Labour MP Jim McMahon at a Felixstowe farm

Shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon on a visit to a dairy farm in Felixstowe - Credit: Josh Kaile

A deepening bird flu crisis in Suffolk was described as "concerning" by a top opposition politician as he visited farmers in the county on Thursday (March 31).

Shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon paid a visit to a family-run beef and dairy farm in Felixstowe to hear about the plight of the UK's farmers, who have been hit by a series of challenges from spiralling costs to the loss of their mainstay farm subsidy, the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), which is being phased out in favour of a new one rewarding environmental work.

As he visited the farm, which is run by father-and-son team Richard and Joe Adams, the Labour MP expressed concern as bird flu cases mounted in the county. Since February 26, a total of eight disease control zones have been set up in Suffolk to try to contain the disease, and poultry flocks on affected farms humanely culled as investigators try to work out how they became infected.

"Obviously like everybody we are concerned about the scale of the outbreaks in the region," he said. 

Labour had been pressing early in the New Year for action to contain the outbreaks, submitting a parliamentary question in January on the matter, he said.

"There has been cross-contamination which has allowed the (bird) flu to get to a wider flock which obviously we are concerned about. It's the number of them and that it appears there has been cross-contamination that's allowed the flu to spread," he said.

There was concern that the disease had managed to slip through high levels of biosecurity measures, allowing it to spread even further, he said.

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His party wanted the UK to become more self-sufficient in food, and suggested that the public sector - which spends £2bn a year on food and drink - should stick to home-grown produce to boost the UK farming industry. At the moment about £600m worth of food and drink for the sector is imported.

It also wanted to negotiate trade deals that would enshrine UK food standards "to ensure that the UK agriculture sector is leading the way around the world on the basis of fair competition", he said. 

“Across the East of England families and farmers are facing mounting pressures as the cost-of-living crisis takes hold. It is vital that we help farmers grow more food in Britain and restore our economy, make work pay fairly, and ensure that everyone can access healthy food produced to the highest standards," he said.

“For Labour, food security really matters – the government has been far too complacent. We agree with the National Farmers Union that we should pledge to produce more, not less, here in Britain. Labour will make, sell and buy more in Britain, with public organisations buying more local food. Labour will back British farmers and by boosting jobs and skills, we can develop world-leading sustainable and modern farming practices”.