There are warnings of a ‘big, big shortage’ this festive season
Half of the free range turkeys produced for Christmas in the UK have already been killed in the bird flu epidemic, an industry chief has said.
British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that 600,000 of around 1.3 million free range turkeys had been lost.
Griffiths said: “The usual amount of free range birds grown for Christmas is around 1.2 to 1.3 million. We have seen around 600,000 of those free range birds being directly affected.”
Total UK turkey production for Christmas was around 8.5 to 9 million birds, but around a million had been culled or died from bird flu, he said, adding that more than a third of poultry farms had been affected by the outbreak.
And he warned that the costs to the industry were “potentially enormous.”
Defra and the British Poultry Council have emphasised that the issue is with free range turkeys, and there are no issues about supplies of other birds.
At 2.30pm today our hearing on Avian Influenza (also known as Avian Flu) starts?
— EFRA Committee (@CommonsEFRA) November 29, 2022
The government recently ordered all poultry and captive birds in England to be kept indoors to fight avian flu.
Asked what that might mean for prices this Christmas, Griffiths said “I don’t know. That’s really a question for retailers. We don’t know how the gaps within retail are going to be filled at this point.”
Poultry farmer Paul Kelly, of Kelly Turkeys, told the committee: “I don’t think UK turkey prices will be going up. I think it will just be a supply issue rather than the prices being hiked.
“But there will be a big, big shortage of British free range turkeys on the shelves this year.”
“The challenge for a lot of the smaller seasonal producers that produce Christmas poultry is they have their Christmas flock on their farm and when the turkeys are infected they all die within four days.
“To give you an example, we had one farmer with 9,500 (birds). The first infection was on Thursday evening, 20 mortality, and by Monday lunchtime they were all dead.”
He continued: “We’re a small business and we’ve lost £1.2 million this year – just turkeys that have died.
“Luckily we’re going to get through to next year but … can we take the risk to grow Christmas poultry based on what we’ve seen this year? We couldn’t. And had I known what I know now we would not have grown the turkeys we did.
“Looking to next year, I don’t want to put the farm at risk.
“Without a vaccine in place or a compensation scheme that is fit for purpose, I don’t know whether we’d have the confidence to grow Christmas poultry next year.”
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