A third of Christmas turkeys lost to bird flu as Defra enforces restrictions

Defra has enforced a bird housing order in England as more than a third of all free-range Christmas turkeys have died following the UK’s worst-ever outbreak of avian flu.

More than 200 cases of bird flu have now been confirmed across the UK since October 2021, and the disease had been found at more than 70 premises since the beginning of October 2022 alone.

As of 7 November, all bird keepers will be legally required to keep their animals indoors and follow “stringent biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from the disease, regardless of type or size”, the government department for environment, food and rural affairs said.

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The order follows an increase in the national risk of bird flu in wild birds to ‘very high’ and extends the mandatory housing measures already in force in the bird flu hotspots in parts of Essex and East Anglia.

British Poultry Council CEO Richard Griffiths was one of many in the poultry sector to call for the urgent measure of a bird housing order in recent weeks.

Griffiths said: “Up to 35% of the UK’s free-range turkey flock had now been lost to the outbreak.

“Avian flu just adds to the many costs of production challenges producers have been facing,” he added.

“There are now big question marks over whether many seasonal free-range turkey producers will take the risk or sit next year’s production out.”

Chief veterinary nurse Dr Christine Middlemiss also gave her thoughts: “We are now facing the largest-ever outbreak of bird flu and are seeing a rapid escalation in the number of cases on commercial farms and in backyard birds across England.

“The risk of kept birds being exposed to disease has reached a point where it is now necessary for all birds to be housed until further notice,” she added.

“Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, from Monday 7 November onwards you must keep yours indoors. This decision has not been taken lightly, but it is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”

The news comes as new PM Rishi Sunak appoints former Defra minister Thérèse Coffey as the secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs.



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