Bird flu: ‘Worst outbreak in UK history’ may put Christmas turkeys at risk

Turkery farmers are fearing an outbreak of bird flu could affect Christmas production  (PA)
Turkery farmers are fearing an outbreak of bird flu could affect Christmas production (PA)

The ‘worst bird flu outbreak in UK history’ is threatening to put supplies of Christmas turkey sales at risk, the National Farmers Union has warned.

Detections of the virus at 155 UK sites has led to more than three million birds being culled with avian influenza prevention zones introduced in Norfolk, Suffolk, parts of Essex and the whole of the south west.

The measures mean that it is now a legal requirement for keepers in these areas to follow strict measures with those storing more than 500 birds now required to restrict access for non essential personnel.

The issue has hit wild bird populations the hardest but James Mottershead, chairman of the union’s poultry board, is concerned about production telling Sky there is a “risk”.

He said: "If bird flu, for example, gets into turkeys that could cause holy carnage; that could cause real supply chain issues in the run-up to Christmas time. The realities of it are quite severe.

Turkey is a Christmas day tradition (PA Archive)
Turkey is a Christmas day tradition (PA Archive)

"I do know of some instances 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 classed as an infected premises, it is serious - you could be out of production for up to 12 months."

Farmers receive compensation for healthy stock that are culled but not those that die from bird flu.

This has led to the union calling on the department for environment, food, and rural affairs (DEFRA) to enhance their protection for producers - something the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has added its weight to.

DEFRA said the UK is currently experiencing the largest-ever outbreak of avian influenza and that million birds have been culled.

The body said it is tackling any outbreak of avian influenza is to eradicate the disease as quickly as possible.