Christmas poultry cut down by UK’s worst bird flu outbreak

The UK has lost 40% of its flock of free-range turkeys to bird flu and consequent culling, leaving some high-end butchers without supplies and adding to the pressure on the market. during the main Christmas period.

Poultry farmers are grappling with the country’s worst outbreak of bird flu, which has been deadly to birds traditionally eaten during the festive season, especially flocks that let loose. dragon. British poultry owners have been asked to keep flocks indoors since Monday to combat further spread.

Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, a trade group, said: “The strain is particularly toxic in turkeys, ducks and geese rather than chickens. “It impresses the Christmas birds and it’s growing exponentially.”

Griffiths said the current outbreak – which started in October 2021 but has become more severe this year than last winter – has claimed two-fifths of its 1.2 million to 1.4 million free-range turkeys every year, Griffiths said.

Gressham, one of the biggest producers, says its entire flock of geese on three farms has been wiped out.

“Our duck and turkey farms have also been affected, resulting in reduced supplies for all of our customers,” said Gressham, the UK’s largest duck producer.

Steve Childerhouse of Great Grove Pou Bird in Norfolk said last month’s bird flu had destroyed his entire flock. About 5,000 birds had died in the two days since he discovered the infection and the arrival of the culling team. The remaining 8,500 turkeys and geese were culled.

“Five or six weeks ago, everything looked good, the birds looked good, and then. . . the avian flu came and blew it all to shreds,” he said, adding that the contagion meant he would likely find work on a culling team as his farm was unusable for 12 years. month.

Childerhouse said some of the 90 butchers and farm shops he normally supplies will not be offering Christmas birds this year.

According to official figures, about 2.3 million poultry – including chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys – were culled during the current bird flu season, compared with 3.2 million during the whole 2021-22 season. .

While that’s only a small percentage of the 20 million birds produced weekly in the UK, it’s already taken seriously for Christmas poultry.

Griffiths says some medium-sized turkey farmers have decided to leave the industry permanently. Paul Kelly, an Essex-based turkey farmer who is a major supplier of chicks to other farms, said clients have declined to commit to next year, leaving him unsure of how many berries he should raise. egg. “They are saying: ‘We can’t take the risk,’ ‘he said.

Ministers are allowing producers of frozen turkeys to then defrost their poultry, selling them fresh – a measure that would allow them to slaughter poultry earlier in an effort to eradicate the virus. The UK produces around 11 million turkeys a year, two-thirds of which go to the Christmas period.

The government compensates farmers who are forced to destroy their poultry, although the industry wants payments to be traced back to the start of the outbreak and include cash for sick birds as well as for those who are sick. healthy children are destroyed.

James Mottershead, chairman of the National Farmers Association’s poultry board, said better compensation would help insurers re-enter the market, giving farmers the confidence to form plan for 2023 and avoid shortages.

The Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Working closely with the livestock and poultry industries, we have announced a support package that includes faster compensation payments, easing of access rules market for poultry products to help with business planning, as well as biosecurity measures. “

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