Free-range Xmas turkeys in short supply as bird flu measures continue

SUPPLIES of free-range birds – including Christmas turkeys – have been hit ‘very, very hard’ by the bird flu epidemic that has hit the UK, MPs have been told.
Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee this week (November 29) up to half of free-range poultry grown for Christmas in the UK has died or been culled.

Of the total 8.5 million to 9 million turkeys produced – not just those for Christmas – about 1.6 million had already died or been culled, he added.
Mr Griffiths was one of the industry experts interviewed by the committee, as it seeks to report on why this year’s outbreak has been ‘so serious and prolonged’.
Paul Kelly, of Kelly Turkeys, based in Essex, said there would be a shortage of free-range birds on shelves this Christmas.

Since October 2021, England has seen more than 250 confirmed cases of bird flu, and Mr Kelly said his business had lost around £1.2m after three outbreaks.
“For farmers it has been devastating,” he said. “The challenge for lot of smaller seasonal producers that produce Christmas poultry, they have their flock on their farm and when it is infected, those turkeys will die within four days.”

Mr Kelly also called for the government to overhaul the compensation scheme for farmers hit by an outbreak.
Currently, they are compensated for the number of fit and healthy birds after an outbreak. However, the committee was told entire flocks can have died before officials arrive to carry out a cull – meaning they receive no compensation.
Since November 7, flocks in England have legally had to be kept indoors in a bid to prevent the spread of bird flu in what the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said was the ‘largest ever outbreak of avian influenza’.
Announcing the measures, UK chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss, said: “We are now facing this year, the largest ever outbreak of bird flu and are seeing rapid escalation in the number of cases on commercial farms and in backyard birds across England.
“The risk of kept birds being exposed to disease has reached a point where it is now necessary for all birds to be housed until further notice.
“Scrupulous biosecurity and separating flocks in all ways, from wild birds remain the best form of defence. Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands … you must keep (them) indoors.
“This decision has not been taken lightly, but is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”

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