British producers have urged shoppers not to buy frozen turkeys amid fears that bird flu concerns could impact sales of the festive staple.
It comes after consumers have been warned of a “big, big shortage” of British free range turkeys this Christmas with half already dead due to bird flu.
Half of the free range turkeys produced for Christmas in the UK have already been killed in the bird flu epidemic, British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee last week.
Mr Griffiths 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.”
Total UK turkey production for Christmas was around 8.5 to 9 million birds, but around a million had been culled or died from bird flu, he said.
Despite fears of bird flu, sales of frozen turkeys have reportedly risen, with purchases more than doubling in October, The Guardian reports.
Paul White, a turkey farmer near Colne in Lancashire, said he had “lots of turkeys left” at his business Paul’s Turkeys because people have been buying frozen birds.
He said on Facebook: “The coverage of the ‘shortage’ has only further impacted us. It’s scared the public, and frozen turkey sales have risen dramatically because people want to make sure they’ve got a turkey in their freezer for Christmas. It being British-reared, or its welfare, has mattered less.”
He added: “That means that people like us have lots of turkeys left. The main impact of the free-range shortage is to supermarkets and large-scale suppliers, and people just want to make sure they’ve got a bird in their freezer. We’re starting to really worry. There is no shortage here.”
Some 1.6 million birds have been culled as of 20 November directly because of bird flu on farms, with around 36 per cent of poultry farms affected by the outbreak, the committee was told.
Poultry farmer Paul Kelly, of Kelly Turkeys, told the committee the outbreak - the worst ever faced in the UK - had been “devastating” for farmers.
He said: “The challenge for a lot of the smaller seasonal producers that produce Christmas poultry is they have their Christmas flock on their farm and when the turkeys are infected they all die within four days.
“To give you an example, we had one farmer with 9,500 (birds). The first infection was on Thursday evening, 20 mortality, and by Monday lunchtime they were all dead.”
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.”
Additional reporting by PA