More than 7m captive birds have died or been culled for bird flu disease control

More than seven million captive birds have died of bird flu or been culled for disease control since an outbreak started in October 2021, the Government said.

Labour said the figures show the equivalent of 17,000 birds died or were culled every day and claimed the Government has “failed to grip this crisis”.

There have been 279 cases of H5N1, avian influenza, in England since the outbreak started in October 2021, according to figures released this week by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Farming minister Mark Spencer told MPs: “To prevent further spread of avian influenza, birds on an infected premises are humanely culled.

Mark Spencer
Farming minister Mark Spencer (James Manning/PA)

“During the current highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 outbreak (October 26 2021 to January 10 2023) 7.48 million birds have died or been culled for avian influenza disease control purposes, including 4.59 million chickens, 1.79 million turkeys, 980,000 ducks, 48,000 geese, 31,000 quail, 35,000 gamebirds and 7,000 other captive birds.”

Defra said the figures are UK-wide and showed both captive birds that died of avian influenza and those that were culled for disease control, but could not provide a breakdown of the number of captive birds that died as a result of the disease.

The latest statistics were released in response to a written parliamentary question from Labour’s shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon.

Mr McMahon told the PA news agency: “The Government has just admitted that 7.48 million birds have died or been culled for avian influenza disease control purposes between October 26 2021 to January 10 2023. That’s the equivalent of 17,000 every day.

“Labour has been pressing the Government for over a year on its preparedness to deal with an avian flu outbreak, and the figures announced show the Conservatives have failed to grip this crisis.

Jim McMahon at Labour Party conference
Shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon (Peter Byrne/PA)

“The Secretary of State should come to Parliament urgently to give our farmers the clarity they need that the Government has a plan and a strong response in place to protect our farms and support all those affected.”

The Government said in November that 3.2 million birds died or were culled for avian influenza disease control purposes between October 2021 and September 2022, and that the figure was 2.8 million between October 2022 and November.

The Government said in November the figures represent a “small proportion”, then 0.6%, of overall yearly poultry production, which Mr Spencer said was “circa 20 million birds slaughtered for human consumption per week”.

Currently, in England, all poultry and captive birds must be housed indoors.

In October last year the Government said it introduced strengthened biosecurity measures that were brought in as part of an avian influenza prevention zone.

NFU poultry board chairman James Mottershead said: “The British poultry sector has experienced an unprecedented year with record levels of avian influenza, which is devastating family farm businesses across the country.

“We have seen how stringent biosecurity measures can help reduce the risk of avian influenza and we urge all bird keepers to remain vigilant, whether you are a professional poultry farmer or someone who keeps a small number of hens in their garden.

“Alongside poultry farmers doing all they can to minimise disease risk, it’s crucial for the government and industry to work together to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible. This will enable much needed additional protection for the national poultry flock, wild birds and farm businesses.”