Urgent action needed as Christmas turkey producers ‘lose war’ against bird flu

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Kelly: 'We have been battling AI for over 20 years and the policy of trying to stamp out the disease has not worked. We have lost the war.'
Kelly: 'We have been battling AI for over 20 years and the policy of trying to stamp out the disease has not worked. We have lost the war.'

Related tags Meat & Seafood

Urgent action needs to be taken to support Christmas turkey producers that have been ‘losing the war’ against Avian Influenza (AI), according to Kelly Turkeys managing director Paul Kelly.

Kelly laid out a five-point plan to help save the future of traditional free-range Christmas turkeys in the face of a losing battle against the UK’s longest and largest outbreak of bird flu.

"We have been battling AI for over 20 years and the policy of trying to stamp out the disease has not worked,”​ said Kelly. “Most countries are now discussing vaccination as the only credible way forward. We have lost the war.

"I liken the situation to the Zero Tolerance policy for covid in China. They are fighting a force of nature that most experts think they cannot win, and it seems their government has now at last realised that locking down the population to eliminate the disease does not work.

“We have the added disadvantage that we cannot lock down wild birds that are the primary source of infection.”

Effective use of vaccines

Reflecting on the steps taken to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelly advocated for the rapid rollout of vaccines to fight bird flu – vaccines he claimed were available and very effective if given the green light.

"The vaccine programme need only be for highly susceptible poultry such as turkeys, ducks and geese, or used in geographical areas deemed as high risk,”​ he added.

"Secondly, monitoring these vaccinated flocks could be carried out by private veterinary practices to test and check that flocks are not carrying a field strain of the virus. The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) would not therefore need any extra resource.”

Kelly then called for a proper financial compensation scheme for Christmas poultry producers.

“In the absence of being able to vaccinate, and also a compensation scheme fit for purpose, will they risk growing turkeys in 2023?”​ Kelly continued. “Many small independent producers have been wiped out and the larger companies that have had infected premises will have had big losses.”

Cleaning and disinfecting

Fourthly, he called for a more consistent and practical approach to the cleaning and disinfecting of premises.

Kelly said: “This can be a nightmare for many if the case officer is not as practical and pragmatic as they could be. We all want to make sure infected premises are free of the virus but some of the requirements can be interpreted in a ridiculous way that adds huge, unnecessary cost to the clean out.

“APHA guidelines are open to interpretation and need to be made as simple, and not as complicated, as possible. For example, to clean a range by taking six inches of top soil off an entire field is not viable or indeed necessary.”

Finally, Kelly said the current 12-month resting period needed urgently addressing to allow seasonal producers to get back into production.

“Research shows the virus survives for up to six weeks outside of the host, so why do we need to rest the site for 12 months?” ​he concluded. “We need a science-based approach, not a figure that is plucked out of the air.”

Related topics Food Safety Meat, poultry & seafood

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