Poultry sector leaders warn Government that bird flu could wipe out the industry

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Efforts to eradicate a massive outbreak of bird flu in Norfolk and Suffolk are in danger of wiping out the industry and the winter could see another peak in cases, leading poultry farmers have warned the Government.

Calls have been made today for faster and retrospective compensation for the culling of flocks of birds, a review of shutdown periods for farms, and an extension of the derogation allowing for turkeys, ducks and geese to be defrosted to 2023 and 2024.

“They are trying to eradicate the disease and they are actually eradicating the poultry industry, said Fabian Eagle, a poultry auctioneer and Norfolk County Council’s member champion for the rural economy.

Industry leaders taking part in a meeting of the Norfolk and Suffolk Poultry Group, chaired by New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership Chief Executive Chris Starkie, also voiced dismay that Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey had not acknowledged a letter sent to her calling for her department to provide more support.

The LEP will now send a further letter to Ms Coffey on behalf of the Group underlining the need for further Government intervention.

Máire Burnett, Technical Director at the British Poultry Council, said there had been 136 cases since 1 October and that although the frequency had fallen a little in recent weeks, there remained the risk of another peak during December as the migratory season was not over. “Biosecurity is still the key message,” she said.

The Government’s temporary relaxation of labelling rules to allow farmers to slaughter turkeys, ducks and geese early and freeze the birds, defrosting them for sale before Christmas had provided some support. However, some smaller producers did not have the freezer capacity for this.

Ms Burnett stressed the continuing seriousness of the situation and said that while turkeys had dominated media headlines, ducks, geese, broilers, laying hens and other birds were affected by the crisis.

Chris Morley, Managing Director of Gressingham Foods in Woodbridge, Suffolk, said there had been 160 cases around the country since 1 September – compared with 25 in the same period last year – and 50% of those had been recorded in East Anglia. This had slowed from 88 cases in October in 48 cases in November, but DEFRA officials are predicting a possible second peak in December.

Mr Morley said the shutdown period urgently needed resolving as there was no science behind the ruling that certain farms need to be shut for 12 months if they didn’t undertake the secondary C&D (cleansing and disinfection). Turnaround times in the UK are slow, while
France is seeing chicken farms restocked in 4 weeks after secondary C&D or 7 weeks after secondary C&D for ducks.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Poultry Group was originally established in the autumn of 2020 as part of the region’s response to the Covid pandemic. At that time, Covid infections were causing factory closures and shutdowns as well as a shortage of staff. This was exacerbated by a reduction in EU workers following Brexit.

Poultry production and processing is one of the most important components within the region’s agricultural sector and has significant potential for future growth.

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