‘Impact’ possible for Christmas dinner as birds culled in avian flu outbreak

A Defra minister has admitted that Christmas dinner could be affected as millions of turkeys and other birds are culled amid a devastating avian flu outbreak.

Lord Benyon told the House of Lords that he could not guarantee the traditional turkey lunch would not be affected by the epidemic, but insisted there is no need to panic buy.

He sought to reassure the public that the UK has a “resilient supply chain” that can cope with such an outbreak.

The international environment minister said: “We are seeing increasing number of turkeys falling prey to this disease, but at the moment, the situation for Christmas turkeys is there or thereabouts OK.

“But I wouldn’t like to predict, if it carried on at the current rate, there wouldn’t be some impact.”

Turkeys (Niall Carson/PA)
Turkeys (Niall Carson/PA)

He admitted that the sheer number of birds that have been culled or died “can’t not have an effect on the supply chain”.

That said, he emphasised: “It is a resilient supply chain, there are alternatives that can come from elsewhere, but we want to make sure people are eating healthy, British-reared turkeys….

“There’s no need, there’s absolutely no need for people to rush out and panic buy.

“This is a very resilient supply chain and we are talking to retailers and others regularly and keeping them informed as well.”

Baroness Hayman, who served as shadow Defra secretary from 2017 to 2019, also warned of the trouble ahead.

She said: “We understand the outbreak has spread at a much faster rate this year and that we are six weeks ahead of where we were this time last year.

“Turkey and geese farmers have warned that if the situation is not resolved then we could face severe shortages over Christmas.”

The Government has taken several steps to tackle the UK’s largest ever outbreak of avian influenza.

While they have focused on biosecurity, they are also now enforcing a housing order in England, where poultry are to be kept inside, from November 7.

They are also allowing farmers to slaughter their turkeys early, freeze and then defrost and sell as fresh later in the year, and are also offered farmers compensation from the outset of a planned cull instead of the end.