Poultry farmers in Norfolk and Suffolk issue help us plea to Therese Coffey over bird flu threat

Credit: PA
Thousands of birds have been culled in the outbreak

Business leaders have written to the environment minister urging her to do more to support the beleaguered poultry industry.

The UK is currently experiencing what has been described as the worst ever outbreak of avian influenza - more commonly known as bird flu.

The disease has led to the culling of thousands of farmed birds as the authorities attempt to stop the spread of the contagion.

In East Anglia alone the industry is valued at around £550m, and accounts for 41% of domestic turkey production, leading to headlines of potential Christmas shortages.

The impact of bird flu can be clearly seen in these two images of the same part of Coquet Island, taken two weeks apart. Credit: RSPB

Now members of the Norfolk and Suffolk Poultry Group - a body representing all those involved in the poultry business have written to Thérèse Coffey, urging her to do more to help.

In the letter they say: "You may be aware that there have been 88 cases of AI [avian influenza] across Great Britain since 1 October, a meteoric increase from the single case reported against the same time frame last year.

"Norfolk and Suffolk is at the epicentre for the virus. The severity is magnified by the factthat our two counties account for somewhere between 18% and 20% of the UK’s poultryproduction of chickens, turkeys, and ducks."

The group says the disease is potentially putting 14,000 jobs at risk, adding: "It is estimated that 55 million birds have so far been culled worldwide during the outbreak.

"Our farmers are doing all they can to mitigate the impact and increase their bio-securitymeasures. However, AI is not going away. This is resulting in the closure of farms for up to five months, and in some cases 12 months.

"Unless swift and impactful measures are taken, we could see the permanent closure of these businesses and supply chain."

Wild birds can transport avian flu around the country. Credit: PA

Among the measure the group is calling for is greater clarity over compensation payments, and speedier action over vaccination plans.They have invited the Suffolk Coastal MP to their next meeting to discuss the issues.

The letter comes just days after a science minister called on the government to get on a "war footing" against the virus.

George Freeman, the Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk and Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, warned that strictly enforced biosecurity and mandatory housing measures were "not enough".

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