DEFRA has announced two supportive measures for the poultry sector as it battles the largest-ever outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

The first relates to compensation for farmers who are hit by HPAI, while the second adjusts marketing regulations allowing seasonal poultry to be slaughtered early, frozen, then defrosted and sold as fresh.

See also Biosecurity remains key to keeping out avian influenza

With avian influenza, compensation is currently paid for all healthy poultry that must be culled due to confirmed avian influenza on a farm – but not birds that have died of disease.

This strain of avian influenza is so virulent that birds are dying faster than officials can get to a site to audit the number of healthy birds, often meaning no compensation is paid.

Under the new plans, the government said compensation will be paid to farmers from the outset of planned culling rather than at the end. “This will allow us to provide swifter payments to help stem any cash flow pressures and give earlier certainty about entitlement to compensation,” a statement added.

In practice, this means compensating for the number of healthy birds on day two after the order has been signed regardless of when culling actually commences.

Mark Williams, British Egg Industry Council chief executive said: “Whilst this will go some way to alleviate some of the issues, we firmly believe that the Animal Health Act 1981 should be amended to allow compensation to be paid on sick birds (as for some other four-legged species).

“In the absence of this, we believe that an assessment for compensation should be paid at point of notification (i.e., when an APHA vet first visits a site).”

Marketing rules

In addition, an easement to marketing rules will mean farmers who breed turkeys, geese or ducks for their meat will have the option to slaughter their flocks early and to freeze these products, which can then be defrosted and sold to consumers between 28 November and 31 December 2022.

However, the measure will only apply to England at present, with the devolved governments yet to announce any change.

The British Poultry Council’s Richard Griffiths welcomed both new measures but said the turkey marketing change could prove a challenge for members. “We need Wales and Scotland to come on board very quickly,” he said.

Upon announcing the changes, farming minister Mark Spencer said: “Farmers and poultry producers are facing real pressures as a result of this avian flu outbreak, and we know many are concerned about the impact on their flocks.

“We hope the practical solutions announced today will help provide greater financial certainty. We very much appreciate the continued cooperation from the sector as we battle this insidious disease and will continue to keep the situation under close review.”