Turkey could be off the menu for many this Christmas as the worst-ever outbreak of bird flu has led to some 1.6 million birds being culled.

Producers of free-range turkeys have been particularly hard-hit, with poultry farmer Paul Kelly warning Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.: “There will be a big, big shortage of free-range British turkeys this year.”

Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the poultry council, said: “The usual amount of free range birds grown for Christmas is around 1.2 to 1.3 million. We have seen around 600,000 of those free range birds being directly affected.”

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How that translates to numbers of birds on supermarket shelves is unclear. We don’t know how the gaps within retail are going to be filled at this point,” Mr Griffiths said.

He warned that the damage could be permanent, spelling an end to free-range poultry altogether: “For next Christmas and subsequent Christmases, I fear for the free-range production as a whole,” he said.

He added: “I think it may be a sort of drip feed away from free-range production more towards the other production, of indoor turkeys”.

This year’s bird flu epidemic, which emerged from intensive poultry production in east Asia, has been called the worst ever. The disease is quite common in farmed birds but outbreaks usually fade away in summer.

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However this year the disease has established a significant foothold among sea bird populations and is now spreading rapidly through the farmed bird populations.

Farmer Paul Kelly says that he has lost in the region of £1.25 million due to bird flu this year, adding that the outbreak is “a very different influenza from what it was 20 years ago”.

Egg supply has also been threatened by the epidemic. Earlier this month Sainsbury’s apologised for the shortage of eggs in some of its shops and at least one Lidl store was rationing supplies “to keep enough for everyone”.

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The war in Ukraine has also had an impact on farmers, with feed prices soaring as a result of restricted imports.

A Defra spokesman said: “We have taken decisive action to tackle this disease and have worked closely with farmers to put infection control measures in place to limit the risk of it spreading further. Outbreak numbers have levelled off in recent weeks suggesting that the recent housing orders are starting to have an impact.

“Sadly, approximately 1.4 million turkeys, some of which are free range, have been culled, but around 11 million turkeys are produced in the UK every year, meaning that there will still be a good supply of Christmas turkeys. These outbreaks are understandably very concerning for the impact they have on individual turkey farmers and we are working closely with them to provide the support they need.”


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