Turkey off the menu for Christmas as ‘dire’ avian flu hits flocks

Turkey off the menu for Christmas as ‘dire’ avian flu hits flocks

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Affluent British families may have to eat beef Wellington or a roast pork this Christmas due to the avian influenza outbreak. High-end butchers are having difficulty finding organic and hand-reared birds after they were unable to source them.

Free-range poultry were particularly affected by the disease, as they were infected from wild birds. The government ordered all poultry to stay indoors last week. Many luxury butchers are now trying to secure birds for Christmas or divert customers to other meats.

The London butcher Ginger Pig told customers on Tuesday it was “looking to a Christmas with alternatives for turkey, duck, goose and 100-day chickens” after its Lincolnshire-based supplier WE Botterill & Son lost its entire flock of 18,000 birds. Ginger Pig, which has eight branches in London, suggested that customers choose beef Wellington or pork over the chicken.

Chris Godfrey of Godfreys butchers in Highbury, London, where a free-range bronze turkey costs more than PS100, said he could offer only about half the normal numbers of turkeys, geese, ducks and Christmas chickens after four of his five farm suppliers experienced outbreaks. He warned turkey buyers that their birds will not be slaughtered until three weeks after they order. If avian influenza strikes other flocks, they may need to be returned.

” The situation is actually dire,” said he. “We sell premium quality, free-range animals of very high quality that all live outside and rummage about. The intensive farms are not hit as badly in the sense that they can have sealed barns.”

Godfrey said orders had been coming in at a “manic” pace but that farmers had called him in tears to report the destruction of flocks. He said that many of these farmers were so hurt they won’t be able to go back into production.

Danny Lidgate, C Lidgate butchers Holland Park, said that high-end butchers were playing “Russian Roulette” while they waited to see which flocks would become sick and be culled before they could slaughter them.

The British Poultry Council stated that the current strains of avian influenza seem to affect other birds more than chickens, which adds to the Christmas pressure. It said last week that 40 per cent of all free-range turkeys had been discarded.

John Mettrick is the chair of Q Guild, a trade organization for high-end butchers. He said that farmers were particularly affected in the east of England which is home to migratory birds. He said that London butchers who source from the area have also been affected.

“Some butchers have indicated that if the bird is lost, they will notify customers.

John Wood of Wood’s Farm Fresh Turkeys in Lancashire said he had supplied butchers and farm shops in Liverpool, Manchester and the Lake District before losing all 4,000 of his birds in late October. He said, “All the business that you have built up over years and years has just vanished in one day.” “I’m going be struggling .”

In contrast, supermarkets claim that their supply is stable. Simon Roberts, chief executive at Sainsbury’s, stated this month: “The good thing is that about a quarter of our turkey volume comes frozen and we have ordered more turkeys than we sold last season. The teams will work hard to fill any gaps.

” While turkey is still a major part of our Christmas offering, customers are increasingly looking at other products. There has been a real move into gammon and beef in recent years.”

Additional reporting by Jonathan Eley

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