What does the bird flu pandemic mean for Christmas meat?
The truth behind bird flu and what this means for our Christmas meat

The truth behind bird flu and what this means for our Christmas meat

What is bird flu, and where has it come from?

Over the past year, we have seen Avian Influenza, commonly known as bird flu, on the rise dramatically. So much so that reporters are saying we could see an impact on our Christmas meat this year. Currently, we are facing the highest record of bird flu in Europe, and the United States is quickly following suit. But why is bird flu so bad at the moment, and are we likely to see it calm down soon?

Avian Influenza is a virus that is commonly spread through birds. This virus and its varying strains spread through birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry, birds and other species. Whilst bird flu does not generally infect humans; there are a number of reported bird flu infections in humans across the world. Currently, we are seeing a strain of bird flu known as H5N1, known for its high death toll worldwide.

Signs and symptoms of Avian Influenza

Avian influenza typically presents itself suddenly in birds, and it often has a very high mortality rate. Depending on the strain of virus that a bird may have contracted, there are varying signs and symptoms that could show owners their poultry or birds are infected. For the H5N1 strain, in particular, signs and symptoms are more easily recognised and can include:

  • Swollen head
  • Blue colour to the comb and wattles
  • Dullness and a lack of appetite
  • Respiratory distress
  • Diarrhoea and a drop in the production of eggs

However, there can be considerable variation in the clinical picture and severity of the disease. If you suspect that your flock has any form of avian influenza, you must contact your local animal health office immediately.

What are chicken farmers doing to protect livestock?

From large chicken farms to back garden chicken owners, advice has been provided to all who own livestock about how to protect their animals and poultry from the spreading virus. The UK has declared a UK-wide Avian Influenza Prevention Zone to help try and mitigate the disease from spreading amongst UK birds. This means that all bird keepers should be following biosecurity measures to help prevent the spread of Avian Influenza. Biosecurity measures include keeping birds inside to reduce the risk of disease. Until recently, this measure was only in place for Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex due to a big jump in the number of cases; however, as of Monday 7th November, this requirement was made mandatory across the UK.

The RSPCA has published advice and guidance for birdkeepers that will help them protect their poultry and Christmas meat from the virus. To view the full guide, please visit the RSPCA website. This advice includes registering all birds and poultry, even if they are only kept as pets, so that DEFRA are able to contact bird keepers when required – this is a legal requirement and must be followed. Bird keepers should be aware of the symptoms of bird flu and should report any concerns immediately.

  • Bird flu is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect any type of avian influenza in poultry or captive birds, you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. In Wales, contact: 0300 303 8268.
  • If you find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77 – Please select option 7). Don’t touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that you find.

RSPCA /Advice and Welfare / Diseases

Is the bird flu epidemic likely to affect our Christmas meat?

Now that we have understood what bird flu is and how bird keepers are taking steps to prevent the strain from spreading, we need to know whether this virus is likely to affect the Christmas meat we are serving our customers this year! Unfortunately, the message is mixed depending on who you speak to or which newspaper you read. However, it is clear that there cannot be a loss of over 5.5 million birds without an impact on the biggest day of the year.

What birds have been affected the most by bird flu?

Turkeys – according to the Financial Times, the UK has lost approximately 40% of its entire turkey flock because of bird flu.

Geese – the popular goose producer Gressingham alone has lost its entire flock of geese across 3 of its farms due to bird flu and necessary culling.

Ducks – it is unknown approximately how many ducks have either died or been culled thanks to the bird flu outbreak.

According to DEFRA, this strain appears to be affecting waterfowl (ducks and geese) and turkeys rather than chickens.

If you are concerned that you will not be able to obtain the number of turkeys or waterfowl you need for your restaurant or event this Christmas, we recommend ordering your products in advance with your local wholesale butcher, so you can be sure your Christmas meat is sorted for 2022.

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Purchase your Christmas meat from IMS of Smithfield

As your experienced wholesale butchery team, we understand that the Christmas period is a stressful and often challenging time of the year for any restaurant or catering team without the pressure of sourcing Christmas meat during a known shortage. That’s why we are here to support you through the season. Working closely with our suppliers and farmers, we aim to provide healthy and well-cared-for Christmas meats throughout the season.

For more information and to start your Christmas order with IMS of Smithfield, get in touch with our team and see how we can help. We look forward to working with you on your Christmas meat order soon.