Worst bird flu outbreak in UK history could put Christmas turkeys at risk | UK News
Christmas turkey supplies could be at risk if the worst bird flu outbreak in UK history continues to spread, the National Farmers’ Union has warned.
More than three million birds have had to be culled so far, with bird flu prevention zones introduced in Norfolk, Suffolk, parts of Essex and the whole of south-west England. England.
Bird flu has been detected at 155 sites across the UK.
As wild bird populations have been badly affected, poultry farmers are increasingly concerned about their livestock – and whether the Christmas turkey supply could be affected.
“It’s a risk,” James Mottershead, chairman of the NFU Poultry Board, told Sky News.
“If bird flu, for example, gets into turkeys, it could cause holy carnage; it could cause real supply chain issues as Christmas approaches. The realities are pretty dire.
“I know of some cases where seasonal turkey producers have been affected by this so far this year. If you have an outbreak on your farm and your farm is classified as an infected establishment, that’s serious – you could be out of production for up to 12 months.”
On September 27, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) extended its bird flu prevention zones following a number of detections.
It is now a legal requirement for bird keepers in Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex to follow strict biosecurity measures – with keepers of more than 500 birds now required to restrict access to non-essential people on site.
In Devon, poultry farmer James Coleman, who runs Creedy Carver Farm, had to cull 20,000 ducks.
It has not had a case of bird flu but has taken the precautionary decision to protect its chicken and duck processing plant on the same site – which processes poultry for other farmers.
“I wouldn’t say we’re hanging on – but it’s had a huge effect,” he told Sky News.
“Right now everyone in the industry is constantly on edge. As soon as you get a new batch of birds from our other site, you’re constantly worried. Every day you go and look at them and if a duck sneezes in a slightly different way, you instantly think “wait a minute – is something wrong?”
Currently, farmers only receive compensation for healthy birds that are culled, but not for those that die of disease or for consequential losses.
He said there needed to be a “massive review” of how DEFRA is handling the outbreak and called for additional financial assistance.
“If we are going to have a situation where the government is going to keep closing businesses and closing farms, we need financial support.
“The rest of the country has had it through COVID – we need the same level of support.
“If we are forced to close by government policy, we need to have the same financial support that everyone else had so that when we’ve done the cleaning and reopened again, we still have business to come.”
As farmers try to secure their sites, the UK’s wild bird population has already been devastated.
For months, thousands of dead birds have washed up on UK beaches.
Paul St Pierre, head of conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, told Sky News the impact has already been “massive”.
He said: “We have seen a 50% to 80% decline in the population of Great Skua in the UK and we hold two thirds of the global population so this species is directly red listed.
“These birds are long-lived – you’re talking about birds that don’t even start breeding for five years and only have one chick a year, so it can take decades for some of these populations to recover. “, he added.
In a statement, DEFRA told Sky News: “The UK is currently experiencing the biggest outbreak of bird flu on record. To date, 3.1 million birds have unfortunately been culled. This represents a small proportion of global poultry production, about one billion birds per year.
“DEFRA’s aim in combating any outbreak of avian influenza is to eradicate the disease as quickly as possible from the UK poultry and captive bird population and to restore the disease free status of the bird flu. ‘World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH).’