Redefine ‘risk’ to address bird flu reality, warns BPC
British food security and business continuity must be built into measures addressing the impact of avian influenza, chief executive of the British Poultry Council (BPC), Richard Griffiths told MPs.
In an EFRA Committee session, Griffiths joined turkey farmer and BPC member, Paul Kelly, and James Pearce-Higgins of the British Trust for Ornithology to discuss the ongoing impact avian influenza poses to UK businesses.
Over a million birds, and half of free-range Christmas turkeys, have been affected during this most recent outbreak, Mr Griffiths reported to the EFRA Select Committee, saying: “The scale of this outbreak is unlike anything we have seen before. Its intensity poses a risk to UK food producers, and our food supply.”
A billion birds are reared every year to provide half the meat the nation eats. BPC said that businesses are doing all they can to avoid an impact to people’s dinner tables but at a time when access to affordable, nutritious food is more important than ever, avian influenza-related challenges must be addressed to support British businesses feeding the nation.
BPC member, Paul Kelly told the committee that: “without a vaccine or a compensation scheme that is fit for purpose, farmers are less likely to take the risk of growing poultry.”
According to the BPC, if Government does not prioritise business continuity and tackle pressures to mitigate the impact of avian influenza, the consequences are likely to manifest in UK food supply.
Griffiths said: “Risk must be expanded to include commercial viability. The conditions of this outbreak are unlike anything we have seen before. More farms have been affected and because of that the concept of ‘risk’ has changed. Contingency plans and measures must reflect that change. This is about our businesses, and ultimately our food security. We have to be able to feed ourselves.”
Turkey farmer Paul Kelly spoke about how the challenges wrapped up in avian influenza are only exacerbating existing pressures deriving from Brexit, inflation and an ongoing labour shortage. Kelly explained that his production costs had increased up to 18%.
BPC said that the absence of an SPS agreement, unreciprocated controls on bird flu with the EU are putting British producers at a commercial disadvantage. The trade body believes that this could easily be solved under a mutual understanding between the UK and the EU to alleviate some of the burdens wrapped up in trade to preserve the viability of British businesses.
To preserve the viability of British businesses feeding the nation, the British Poultry Council is calling for:
- Government to work with industry to address issues pertaining to vaccination.
BPC said that both the national and international poultry industry believes vaccination – if coherently applied to avoid trade disruption – is a long-term solution for living with avian influenza. Without the political will to back progress, industry faces unanswered questions around the scientific, logistical, and regulatory challenges wrapped up in vaccination.
- Government investment in sufficient resources and systems, including veterinarians.
- An urgent review of current contingency plans and requirements, such as the compensation scheme, to ensure structures are robust and fit to handle the intensity of this outbreak. This includes enabling greater responsibility-sharing with the sector.
- Action to negotiate a form of veterinary (SPS) agreement with the EU to ease the current issues with trade under avian influenza.
BPC believes that the current system is eroding British business viability. It said: “Without Government support to invest in sufficient resources and systems, including veterinarians, we can expect a detrimental effect on the British poultry meat sector’s ability to continue feeding the nation.”