Farmers have urged people to buy fresh turkey this Christmas as Brits scramble to buy frozen birds to avoid any reported festive shortages.
Turkey farmers believe Brits are stockpiling frozen Turkeys after scaremongering reports of a “big, big shortage” of British free range turkeys this Christmas with half wiped out by bird flu.
The Government says 1.4 million turkeys have been culled so far this year following the outbreak of the disease, which scientists say is the largest ever seen in the UK.
But Paul White, a farmer at Paul’s Turkeys near Colne in Lancashire, said such reports have put people off seeking to buy from small-scale turkey producers.
His claims he has “lots of turkeys left” because people have been buying frozen turkeys to make sure they don’t go without.
“The coverage of the ‘shortage’ has only further impacted us,” he wrote on Facebook
. “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.”
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.
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.
Asked what that might mean for prices this Christmas, Mr Griffiths said “I don’t know. That’s really a question for retailers. We don’t know how the gaps within retail are going to be filled at this point.”
Poultry farmer Paul Kelly, of Kelly Turkeys, told the committee: “I don’t think UK turkey prices will be going up. I think it will just be a supply issue rather than the prices being hiked.
“But there will be a big, big shortage of British free range turkeys on the shelves this year.”
Some 1.6 million birds have been culled as of November 20 directly because of bird flu on farms, Mr Griffiths told the committee, with around 36% of poultry farms affected by the outbreak.
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.”