'No risk to Christmas turkey supply' after Farmers Union cite bird flu concerns, government says

Will the outbreak of bird flu impact turkey supply during the festive period? Chloe Keedy reports

There will be no risk to the supply of turkeys over the Christmas period, the government has said, as it sought to calm concerns over the outbreak of bird flu.

A spokesperson for the National Farmers Union had said that there was a risk supply could become disrupted over Christmas due to a rising number of Avian bird flu cases.

But in a comment made to ITV News, a Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) spokesperson said: "We do not anticipate any impact of avian influenza on the supplies of turkeys or other birds over Christmas."

More than three million birds have been culled this year as farmers attempt to deal with the outbreak, with infection zones put in place in Norfolk, Suffolk, and across the whole of South-West England, among others.

The disease has been detected at 155 sites in the UK. Birds have been culled to try and stop the spread of the bird flu.

However DEFRA said: "Only around 10% of the total 3.1 million birds culled so far in the 2021/2022 outbreak have been turkeys. According to the British Poultry Council, households in the UK eat around 10 million turkeys each year.

"Whilst these outbreaks are very concerning for the individual turkey farmers and businesses that are affected, we produce around 11 million turkeys in the UK every year so the number in relative terms that are affected is very small and will not affect the overall supply of Christmas turkeys."

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What is bird flu?

'Bird Flu' is the term given to a number of influenza strains, primarily spread through birds.

It's spread among poultry is a cause of concern for health agencies, as the illness can affect humans - if transmitted via handling infected birds or bird droppings, or preparing and eating an affected bird.

In humans it causes a very high temperature, along with headaches and muscle fatigue.

'A very difficult year'

NFU poultry board chair James Mottershead told ITV News “the poultry sector has experienced a very difficult year in regard to the threat of avian influenza (AI). 

"Turkey producers are working hard to maintain production in the face of AI, as well as soaring energy and input costs, to ensure there remains an ample supply of British turkeys this Christmas.

Credit: PA

 “While the Chief Veterinary Officer has deemed the threat to be low for poultry in most parts of the country, outbreaks can still occur and farmers are remaining vigilant.

"Maintaining good biosecurity measures is important for all bird keepers, whether you are a commercial farmer or someone who keeps a small number of hens in the garden.

“We will continue to work with the government to minimise the impacts of any future outbreaks of Avian influenza so that we do not experience another year like this one.”