Bird flu outbreak ‘worst in years’

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

No signs of slowing down: Avian flu unlike anything seen before (Getty/ E4C)
No signs of slowing down: Avian flu unlike anything seen before (Getty/ E4C)

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The outbreak of avian flu wiping out Christmas turkey stock is the worst seen in recent years, according to the British Poultry Council.

The Council’s communications manager Kerry Maxwell told The Morning Advertiser​ it was “unlike anything ever seen before”.

This comes after an industry official told MPs​ half of the free range turkeys produced for Christmas in the UK had been culled or died due to avian flu.

British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths said 600,000 out of around 1.3m free range birds had been lost. 

Rapid spread

Avian flu was spreading “rapidly” through wild birds, and there were fears it was becoming endemic, British Poultry Council communications manager Kerry Maxwell told The Morning Advertiser.

While it was impossible to say how long the flu would continue for, she said there was little to suggest its intensity would lessen. The Council was working with the Department for Food and Rural Affairs to improve its contingency plan and address long-term issues relating to vaccination.

Maxwell said it was too early to tell why the outbreak of avian flu was so much worse than other years.

Lynx Purchasing managing director Rachel Dobson, said: “Producers are dealing with the impact of avian flu on top of other issues such as the labour shortage, increased transport costs and, in particular, very high costs for feed."

Xmas stress

She added: “Some producers have been preparing and freezing​ uninfected turkeys to avoid having to cull flocks closer to Christmas. However, with up to 600,000 fewer birds on the market this year, and the supermarket retailers now competing very strongly for the supplies that are available, most hospitality industry suppliers are notifying their customers of price increases.”

The added problem for many operators was that consumers facing higher bills and mortgage payments may leave it late to book meals out-of-home, she continued, by which time it may be too late for pubs to place orders for turkey.

“Turkey always sees an annual spike in demand, and alternatives such as duck or goose are also affected by avian flu,” added Dobson. “Operators may find that pork and beef are more available but should still budget for higher prices​ due to the overall levels of demand in both hospitality and retail.   

“Our advice is to assess the demand for Christmas meals, and with only three weeks to go, place orders now. While there’s no escaping price increases, keep talking to suppliers and keep menu descriptions flexible wherever possible.”

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