SEASONAL turkey producer and supplier Paul Kelly has said that, without significant changes to avian influenza management, free-range turkey producers will be reluctant to place birds in 2023.
He has outlined five problematic areas for the sector, including compensation, vaccines, cleaning protocols and disease monitoring.
Paul Kelly is managing director of Kelly Turkeys and also has a hatchery supplying day-old turkey poults into the seasonal turkey market.
Avian influenza has devastated the free-range turkey market this year, with more than 500,000 birds lost.
He has called for a change of approach. “We have been battling AI for over 20 years, and the policy of trying to stamp out the disease has not worked.
“Most countries are now discussing vaccination as the only credible way forward. We have lost the war.
“I liken the situation to the Zero Tolerance policy for covid in China. They are fighting a force of nature that most experts think they cannot win, and it seems their government has now at last realised that locking down the population to eliminate the disease does not work.
“We have the added disadvantage that we cannot ‘lock down’ wild birds that are the primary source of infection.
“Talking to people in the know, it would seem there are vaccines available that would be very effective and, given the green light, they could be produced very quickly.
“So, firstly, we need to get vaccine approval fast-tracked – just as we did with the covid vaccines.
The vaccine programme need only be for highly susceptible poultry such as turkeys, ducks and geese, or used in geographical areas deemed as high risk.
“Secondly, monitoring these vaccinated flocks could be carried out by private veterinary practices to test and check that flocks are not carrying a field strain of the virus.
“The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) would not, therefore, need any extra resources.
Fourthly, he calls for a more consistent and practical approach to cleaning and disinfecting premises.
“This can be a nightmare for many if the case officer is not as practical and pragmatic as they could be.
Cleaning and disinfection
We all want to make sure infected premises are free of the virus.
“But some of the requirements can be interpreted in a ridiculous way that adds huge, unnecessary cost to the clean out.
“I have colleagues who are pulling their hair out with what the Environment Agency is stipulating.”
His final point concerns the current 12-month resting period. “This needs to be addressed urgently
to allow seasonal producers to get back into production.