Will the bird flu outbreak affect turkey Christmas dinners?

Turkey is a popular Christmas dinner choice in many UK households. Credit: PA

Words by ITV News Production Journalist Jessica Tidswell

Farmers are warning of the potential impact on the supply of turkeys this Christmas as the UK's largest outbreak of bird flu sweeps across the country.

From Monday 7 November, poultry owners in England will be legally required to keep their birds indoors in a bid to tackle the spread of avian influenza.

The rules are already in place in Suffolk, Norfolk and parts of Essex.

What is bird flu - and can humans catch it?

Avian influenza is a type of flu that spreads among birds. There are several strains of the virus, many of which do not infect humans easily and are not usually spread from human to human.

The virus is spread by close contact with an infected bird (dead or alive), this includes touching an infected bird, touching droppings or bedding and killing or preparing an infected bird for cooking.

Humans cannot catch bird flu through eating fully cooked poultry or eggs, even in areas where there has been an outbreak.

Birds, including turkeys, have to be kept indoors. Credit: PA

How many birds have been culled?

More than 200 cases of bird flu have been confirmed since late October 2021, leading to around 5.5 million birds being culled, with 2.5 million of those last month.

If an outbreak of bird flu is detected, the flock will be culled to prevent the spread of any further disease.

Will I get a turkey this Christmas?

Turkey farmers have warned of a shortage this Christmas, saying prices of available poultry could rise.

Mark Gorton, managing director of Traditional Norfolk Poultry, said if the situation continues there could be "severe shortages" this festive season.

The UK produces nearly a billion birds a year for eating as meat and, for Christmas, produces between nine and 10 million turkeys.

Mr Gorton said: "It's been unbelievably bad. It's off the scale - worse than anything we've seen before.

"There will be a big impact on the Christmas market. It's going to be quite bad. If it carries on the way it is, we're going to be seeing severe shortages."

Will I get a goose this Christmas?

Supplies of geese have also been heavily impacted by bird flu - which could lead to shortages this Christmas.

Defra, the government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, announced on Friday, 28 October that marketing rules in England would be eased to help support farmers.

The measures mean that farmers who breed turkeys, geese or ducks for their meat will have the option to slaughter their flocks early and to freeze these products, which can then be defrosted and sold to consumers between the period 28 November and 31 December 2022.

Defra says this option will give farmers certainty over business planning.

What are the unions saying?

NFU poultry board chair James Mottershead said: “The British poultry sector has experienced a very difficult year and continues to suffer from the ongoing threat of avian influenza. We are also working against soaring energy and input costs which are impacting farms across the country.

“Turkey producers are doing all they can to protect the health and welfare of their birds at this difficult time and are working hard to maintain production levels despite outbreaks of avian influenza, especially as we approach Christmas.

“As avian influenza persists, vigilance is key and maintaining stringent biosecurity measures are vital for all bird keepers, whether a professional poultry farmer or someone who keeps a small number of hens in their garden.”

Where are the worst affected areas?

Since 12 October, Suffolk, Norfolk and parts of Essex have been places under strict rules which legally require poultry owners to keep their birds indoors and follow stringent biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from the disease, regardless of type or size.The national risk of avian influenza in wild birds has been raised to 'very high.'

From Monday, 7 November, poultry owners in England will be legally required to keep their birds indoors in a bid to tackle the spread of avian influenza.

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