BRITAIN prides itself on being a nation of animal lovers, and yet barely a word has been uttered about the suffering endured by the 160,000 birds who have been shoved into crates and gassed to death during the Bernard Matthews H5N1 bird flu outbreak.

This outbreak is yet another disaster caused by brutal intensive farming.

Influenza has affected poultry for millions of years, but it is intensive farming that make it spread and mutate rapidly among thousands of shed-reared birds, and it is the international transportation of both living and slaughtered birds that spreads it around the world.

The industry's claim that H5N1 has been spread by migrating birds is now discredited, as we are not in a migration season.

Since 1997, 164 people have died from H5N1 and 200 million birds have been slaughtered. These are unnecessary deaths.

If we are to prevent further epidemics of diseases such as H5N1, foot and mouth and BSE, we need to end intensive farming, close down livestock markets and prevent long distance travel of farmed animals.

Of course, as an individual, the best way to ensure that you are not eating infected meat or poultry, is not to eat meat or poultry at all. For a free vegetarian recipe pack, contact Animal Aid on 01732 354032.

RICHARD MOUNTFORD, development manager, Animal Aid, Tonbridge, Kent.