Christmas dinner could be off the table this year, with turkey prices soaring after bird flu outbreak

3 November 2022, 17:48

Christmas dinner could be threatened this year
Christmas dinner could be threatened this year. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

The traditional Christmas dinner could be very different this year, with turkey prices skyrocketing amid shortages driven by an "unbelievably bad" outbreak of bird flu, farmers have warned.

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The UK has undergone a devastating avian flu epidemic since October 2021, which has led to more than 5 million birds being culled over the past year - with 2.5 million of those coming just in the past month.

Farmers have warned that the price of the staple Christmas poultry will inevitably rise, and there could be shortages.

Mark Gorton, of Traditional Norfolk Poultry, told ITV: "It's been unbelievably bad. It's off the scale - worse than anything we've seen before.

"There will be a big impact on the Christmas market. It's going to be quite bad. If it carries on the way it is, we're going to be seeing severe shortages."

Turkeys roosting indoors due to an earlier avian flu outbreak
Turkeys roosting indoors due to an earlier avian flu outbreak. Picture: Getty

British farmers produce between nine and ten million turkeys for Christmas each year. Lord Benyon, a minister in the environment, food and rural affairs ministry, sought to reassure the public that the turkey supply chain is "resilient".

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."

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

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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."

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.

Turkey prices could skyrocket because of the cull enforced in response to avian flu
Turkey prices could skyrocket because of the cull enforced in response to avian flu. Picture: Getty

Union bosses that while the turkey news could be a blow for consumers, it comes on top of an already-difficult period for farmers.

National farmers union poultry board chair James Mottershead said: “The British poultry sector has experienced a very difficult year and continues to suffer from the ongoing threat of avian influenza. We are also working against soaring energy and input costs which are impacting farms across the country.

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“Turkey producers are doing all they can to protect the health and welfare of their birds at this difficult time and are working hard to maintain production levels despite outbreaks of avian influenza, especially as we approach Christmas.

“As avian influenza persists, vigilance is key and maintaining stringent biosecurity measures are vital for all bird keepers, whether a professional poultry farmer or someone who keeps a small number of hens in their garden.”