Millions could miss Xmas turkeys as UK suffers worst ever bird flu outbreak

THE traditional Christmas turkey dinner could be under threat if the worst avian flu outbreak in UK history continues to spread, farming experts have warned.

So far, bird flu has been detected at 155 sites across the UK and more than three million birds have been culled.

Bird flu has been detected at 155 sites so far in the UK's worst ever outbreak

Bird flu has been detected at 155 sites so far in the UK’s worst ever outbreakCredit: Getty
The traditional roast turkey dinner at Christmas could be under threat

The traditional roast turkey dinner at Christmas could be under threatCredit: Getty

Avian Influenza Prevention Zones have been put in place in Norfolk, Suffolk, parts of Essex and the whole of the South West of England.

There is no indication any humans have been affected in the current outbreak.

There is now growing fears among poultry farmers about their livestock and that Christmas turkey supplies could be impacted.

James Mottershead, the chairman of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Poultry Board, told Sky News: “It is a risk. 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.

“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 up for up to 12 months.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) extended its Avian Influenza Prevention Zones on September 27 following a number of detections.

Bird keepers in Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex are now legally required to follow strict biosecurity measures.

Keepers of more than 500 birds are now required to restrict access for non-essential people on site.

Devon poultry farmer James Coleman, who runs Creedy Carver farm, has had to cull 20,000 ducks.

There has not been a case of avian flu on his farm but made the decision as a preventative measure to protect his chicken and duck processing plant on the site, which processes birds for other farmers.

Mr Coleman told the news outlet: “I wouldn’t say we’re clinging on – but it’s had a huge effect.

“At the moment everybody in the industry is just on tenterhooks constantly.

“As soon as you get a new batch of birds on our other site, you’re permanently worried.

“Every day you go and look at them and if a duck sneezes in a slightly different fashion, you’re instantly thinking ‘hang on a minute – is something wrong?'”

Under the current rules, farmers only get compensation for healthy birds that are culled, but not those that die of the disease, or consequential losses.

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.

James Mottershead, the chairman of the NFU’s Poultry Board

Mr Coleman called for Defra to undertake a “massive review” on how it deals with the outbreak and for more financial aid.

“If we’re going to have a situation where the government is going to continue shutting down businesses and shutting down farms, we need financial support,” he said. “The rest of the country had it through Covid – we need that same level of support.

“If we are being forced to close through government policy, we have to have that same financial support that everybody else had so that when we’ve done the clearout and when we reopen again, we still have a business to come to.”

The UK’s wild bird population has already faced devastation.

In the past few months, thousands of dead birds have been washing up on beaches around the UK.

What is bird flu?

Avian flu, also known as bird flu is an infectious virus that spreads among birds and in rare cases it can affect humans.

Most of the strains don’t infect humans but there are four which have caused concern in recent years, these are: H5N1, H7N9, H5N6 and H5N8.

While there are many different strains of bird flu, only two of them have caused serious concerns for humans over the past few decades.

The H5N1 has led to medical problems since 1997, and H7N9 has been prevalent since 2013.

Bird flu can spread to people when they have direct contact with the infection.

This can occur when humans touch dead or alive contaminated birds, their droppings or secretions from their eyes.

Visiting live bird markets in countries that have suffered from avian flu outbreaks is sometimes also a cause for concern.

The NHS has revealed ways you can avoid contracting bird flu:

  • avoid visiting live animal markets and poultry farms
  • avoid contact with surfaces that are contaminated with bird droppings
  • don’t pick up or touch birds (dead or alive)
  • don’t eat or handle undercooked or raw poultry, egg or duck dishes
  • don’t bring any live poultry products back to the UK, including feathers
  • always practice good personal hygiene, such as washing your hands regularly

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) conservation officer Paul St Pierre said the impact had already been “massive”.

He told Sky: “We’ve seen declines of between 50 per cent and 80 per cent of the population of Great Skua in the UK and we hold two-thirds of the world population, so that species has gone straight onto the red list.

“These birds are long-lived – you’re talking about birds that don’t even start breeding for five years and then they only have one chick per year, so it might take decades before some of these populations recover.”

Defra said in a statement: “The UK is currently experiencing the largest-ever outbreak of avian influenza.

“To date, 3.1million birds have unfortunately been culled. This represents a small proportion of overall poultry production, around one billion birds a year.

“Defra’s objective in tackling any outbreak of avian influenza is to eradicate the disease as quickly as possible from the UK poultry and captive-bird population and regain UK World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) disease-free status.”

The NFU said there could be 'holy carnage' if bird flu got into turkeys

The NFU said there could be ‘holy carnage’ if bird flu got into turkeysCredit: Getty