LONDON, England: Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said nearly half of all turkeys and geese in the UK have either died or been culled, due to the country's largest-ever outbreak of avian flu.
Griffiths told lawmakers from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that British farmers usually produce 1.2 to 1.3 million free-range birds for the Christmas period, but stated, "We have seen around 600,000 of those free-range birds being directly affected."
Total turkey production for Christmas in the UK was usually about 8.5 to 9 million birds, but this year, just over one million have died or been culled, he added, stressing he did not know the subsequent effects on prices.
"That is really a question for retailers at this point. We do not know how the gaps within retail are going to be filled," he said, as quoted by Reuters.
The major supermarket groups have so far been relatively relaxed in their public statements about the availability of turkeys this coming Christmas.
In October, supermarket sector leader Tesco said it expects to satisfy demand for birds, while earlier this month rival Sainsbury's said it had ordered more turkeys for Christmas this year than last year.
Marks and Spencer, which sells one in four fresh turkeys in the UK for Christmas, said it had put in place plans to protect supplies.
However, poultry farmer Paul Kelly told the committee, "There will be a big, big shortage of free range British turkeys on the shelves this year. The biggest effect has been on the supermarkets."
Since the start of October, nearly 140 cases of bird flu have been discovered in the UK, with 1.6 million birds being culled, Griffiths said, noting that 36 percent of British poultry farms were now subject to avian flu controls, meaning that birds must be kept indoors.
"So it is huge and the costs for industry and food production are potentially enormous," he added, as reported by Reuters.