LONDON (Reuters) - The deadly strain of H5N1 bird flu was confirmed on Tuesday at a turkey farm in Suffolk, in a fresh blow for farmers still reeling from outbreaks of foot and mouth disease and bluetongue.
Acting Chief Veterinary Officer, Fred Landeg, said the strain was closely related to those found in outbreaks in the Czech Republic and Germany earlier this year.
"Although we have some information of the lineage we do not yet know the source of this outbreak. It is too early to speculate," he told reporters.
The virulent H5N1 strain has killed more than 200 people worldwide since 2003 and millions of birds have either died from it or been killed to prevent its spread.
The Czech Republic had an outbreak of H5N1 in domestic poultry in July while the strain was found in Germany in July and August.
"While we are disappointed to learn that the strain is the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain, it is not entirely surprising given the cases in the Czech Republic and Germany earlier this year," said Nick Blayney, president of the British Veterinary Association.
Officials began the slow process on Tuesday of slaughtering thousands of birds at the farm on the Norfolk/Suffolk border which houses 5,000 turkeys, 1,000 ducks and 500 geese.
An outbreak of the H5N1 virus strain occurred in February at a turkey farm in Suffolk.
Landeg urged vigilance from poultry keepers, asking them to stay on the lookout for the disease and to report symptoms quickly.
Defra has imposed a 3-km (2-mile) protection zone, 10-km (4-mile) surveillance zone and a wider restricted zone. In these areas, poultry must be isolated from wild birds and there are movement restrictions.
The measures received won approval on Tuesday from the European Commission.
"Upon suspicion of the virus, the UK authorities responded rapidly, immediately applying the precautionary measures laid down in the EU Avian Influenza Control Directive and additional measures for the H5N1 virus," the EU executive said.
The livestock sector has had a tough year with a first ever outbreak of bluetongue and a foot and mouth outbreak.
"2007 will undoubtedly be remembered as an 'annus horribilis' for British farmers. News that this outbreak is H5N1 is a terrible blow for the countryside," Neil Parish, chairman of the European Parliament's agriculture committee said.
(Additional reporting by Veronica Brown in London and Jeremy Smith in Brussels)
(Reporting by Nigel Hunt; Editing by Chris Johnson)