Source: Alamy 

The supplier has called for an improvement to compensation packages after it lost its festive geese flock to the disease

Gressingham Foods has called for increased government compensation for poultry producers after its entire festive goose flock was wiped out by avian flu.

In addition to a temporary derogation on rules around the freezing and defrosting of poultry to be sold as fresh, the supplier has called for an improvement to compensation packages that currently only pay producers for live birds that have been culled by the Animal & Plant Health Agency.

After the UK moved to a nationwide Avian Influenza Prevention Zone on Monday, Gressingham warned the poultry sector and affected farmers were now “in urgent need of support”.

Co-owner William Buchanan is calling for compensation to cover the six-month period farms are required to cease operations following an outbreak, and for cash to be paid out for fallen birds.

“Even with excellent biosecurity it is impossible to stop the spread of this highly virulent disease which is endemic in the wild bird population,” Buchanan added.

His calls were echoed by Kelly Turkeys MD Paul Kelly, who said the current bird flu situation was “set to get an awful lot worse”, adding “unless we get state aid” many [producers] “won’t be here” next year.

One senior food sector source told The Grocer that in one poultry farm visited by the Animal & Plant Health Agency “there had been 98% mortality” – meaning the producer would not be compensated for the vast majority of its lost birds.

Gressingham is also calling for government approval for a poultry vaccination rollout, which is not yet approved.

There now needed to be an “urgent discussion on vaccines”, agreed NFU poultry board chair James Mottershead. “We have the technology and ability to develop one,” he added, citing the speed at which a covid vaccine was developed.

Christmas turkey flocks decimated as ‘worst ever’ bird flu outbreak looms

It comes amid a rapid increase in bird flu cases, particularly in East Anglia, which led Defra to introduce a regional housing order for captive birds across Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex last week. Experts say this year’s bird flu season will eclipse last year’s “worst ever” outbreak by a significant distance.

The total Gressingham geese flock, spread over three farms, had “already been lost, leaving retailers with no fresh geese for Christmas 2022”, Buchanan said.

“Our duck and turkey farms have also been affected, which is resulting in reduced supply to all our customers,” he added. “We continue to work closely with our customers and are encouraging consumers to consider buying their poultry fresh now and freezing it at home for later consumption.”

A Defra spokeswoman said the government recognised the pressure farmers were experiencing dur to the bird flu outbreak.

It had “introduced a range of measures to contain the disease including declaring an Avian Influenza Protection Zone across the whole of the UK”, she added. “We are working closely with the poultry industry to ensure that producers have the support that they need during this difficult time.”

However, she would not be drawn on an enhanced compensation package, and pointed out exisitng commercial avian flu vaccines were unlikely to provide full protection for the current strains of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) circulating in Europe and in wild birds in the UK.