British turkeys are “dropping like flies” due to the highly pathogenic strain of bird flu ravaging the sector, according to one of the UK’s largest turkey farmers, Paul Kelly.
Kelly told the British parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that after 20 birds of his died due to the disease on a Thursday evening, the entire flock of some 9,500 birds were dead by the Monday lunchtime.
He shared poultry farmers’ frustrations as the UK’s compensation scheme covers birds culled due to bird flu, not birds already dead when the control cull occurs.
The turkey farmer said that when the bird flu compensation scheme was set up in 1981, flock owners were dealing with a strain of avian influenza which had “low pathogenicity”.
“So actually, when they did arrive to kill the birds, there wasn’t that much mortality. The compensation scheme then was fit for purpose. Now, it’s mutated and it’s now a ‘high-pass’ virus. So, when they arrived to kill, they are all dead now,” he said.
Kelly described how in order to avoid being “wiped out”, farmers don’t want to rely on a compensation scheme but are instead calling for a bird flu vaccine.
Christmas supply issues
Joining Kelly at the UK parliamentary committee hearing on bird flu on Tuesday, British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths told policymakers that half of the UK’s free-range Christmas turkeys have been lost due to the bird flu crisis.
“The usual amount of free-range birds grown for Christmas is probably around 1.2m to 1.3m. We have seen around 600,000 of those free-range birds being directly affected so those are half the turkeys [produced for] Christmas [which] have already been killed,” he warned.
Griffiths said the impact of this Christmas turkey shortage in Britain on prices is “really a question for retailers at this point”.
“We do not know how the gaps within retail are going to be filled at this point,” he said.
Irish poultry farmers remain on high alert with strict biosecurity measures in place to avoid outbreaks to the extent they have been seen in the UK.
To date, there have been two turkey flocks hit with avian influenza, both in Co Monaghan. A 3km radius protection zone has been established around each.