Britons face a shortage of turkeys this Christmas as poultry farmers struggle to cope with the impact of the country’s worst-ever outbreak of bird flu.
As of midnight on 7 November, all bird keepers in England will be required by law to house their poultry and other captive birds indoors. This is in response to the UK's largest ever outbreak of avian influenza, also known as bird flu. There have been more than 200 cases confirmed since late October 2021, with the disease being detected at more than 70 premises.
The mandatory measures are necessary to help prevent the further spread of the disease. However, they will inevitably cause some disruption for bird keepers. The latest announcement came after a decision by the chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss, who is encouraging all bird keepers to use this week to prepare, including taking steps to safeguard animal welfare, consulting their private vet and expanding housing where necessary.
Earlier in October, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) introduced mandatory housing measures in what it described as “hot spot” areas of Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex. The decision to extend the measure across the country was not taken lightly but is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease. The UK Health Security Agency has advised that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency advice remains unchanged, stating that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.
Defra said that housing birds, combined with stringent biosecurity measures, can greatly reduce the risk of spreading the disease. Bird keepers have been advised to report suspicion of disease in their birds to Defra’s animal and plant health agency on 03000 200 301.
The situation has led farmers and industry experts to warn that the outbreak may lead to a shortage in Christmas turkeys and a possible rise in price as well. However, on Friday, Defra announced that rules would be changed so that farmers who breed turkeys, geese or duck can slaughter their flocks early and freeze these products, which can then be defrosted and sold between 28 November and 31 December (although these will need to be clearly labelled).