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MPs probe as ‘worst ever’ bird flu hits farmers and Christmas fare

24 November 2022

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee holds hearing into the country’s largest ever outbreak of bird flu.

The highly contagious disease, which affects wild birds as well as poultry, is impacting the supply of turkeys for the Christmas trade as infected birds die or are culled to prevent further spread of the disease. There have also been reports of egg shortages and egg rationing in supermarkets, due to the combined effects of avian flu and soaring costs facing farmers.  

The committee will ask poultry farmers and experts, as well as government agencies dealing with the situation, why this outbreak in the UK has been so serious and prolonged, compared with previous years, since it first emerged in October 2021. 

Poultry farmers are required to keep their flocks indoors (known as a ‘housing order’) to prevent infection from wild birds. MPs are expected to ask how farmers might be compensated by the government for the hit to their livelihoods and the implications of the housing order on ‘free range’ rearing. They may also have questions about the ‘freeze and thaw’ scheme which allows turkeys to be culled in advance for the Christmas trade.  

There have also been large scale deaths among wild bird populations. Last winter, for example, saw over 16,000 Barnacle Geese die on Scotland’s Solway Firth – a third of the entire breeding population of this species in the area.  

The government has said the disease is now endemic amongst wild birds, which may have implication for how the disease is managed in the future.  

Witnesses 

Tuesday 29 November in Committee Room 6, Palace of Westminster 

Panel 1  - at 2.30pm

  • Richard Griffiths, Chief Executive, British Poultry Council  
  • Paul Kelly, turkey supplier, Kelly Turkeys 
  • James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science, British Trust for Ornithology 

Panel 2  - at 3.30pm

  • David Holdsworth, Chief Executive, Animal Plant Health Agency 
  • Christine Middlemiss, Chief Veterinary Officer

Further information

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