A spokesman from the BPC told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “The cost of AI [avian influenza] to the UK poultry meat sector over the last two years in terms of trade restrictions is over £100M.”
BPC chief executive Richard Griffiths told FoodManufacture.co.uk that this winter had been a difficult time for the poultry meat sector.
“The threat to the health of our birds has been heightened since December, but DEFRA [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] experts are now indicating that the risk from migratory birds may soon be coming to an end, at least for the time being,” he said.
“Keeping free-range birds indoors has been a challenge for producers. BPC members have received great support from their retail customers throughout this period and consumers have been very understanding about the steps we must take to deal with this disease of birds.”
‘Still a threat that bird flu could return’
The poultry meat sector had worked closely with DEFRA to “stamp out” the disease from its flocks, said Griffiths, but there was still a threat that bird flu could return to England.
He added: “Although free-range only accounts for around 3.5% of birds grown in the UK, it is an important section of the market and it will continue to be so.”
National Farmers Union poultry board chairman Duncan Priestner said producers faced serious threats to their business if they lost their free-range status and were unable to market their products as such.
According to the Food and Drink Federation, the restrictions did not cause a significant disruption to its members.
Guidelines to keep poultry indoors due to the risk of bird flu in England will be lifted from Thursday (April 13), following new evidence on the risk posed by wild birds carrying the disease has fallen.
Minimise the risk
The requirement to keep poultry in higher risk areas of the country housed or completely enclosed in netting – to minimise the risk of them catching avian influenza – was introduced in December last year by DEFRA.
Rules on keeping poultry indoors have caused problems for free-range food producers. Under EU law, eggs and poultry cannot be labelled free-range if they have been kept inside for more than 12 weeks.
Producers have been attaching stickers on packaging, to explain to consumers that the eggs had been laid by hens that were temporarily housed in barns.