• No further changes likely in future
• Restocking is ‘commercial choice’
• Stronger biosecurity recommended
The government has ruled out further changes to bird flu compensation – saying it is important to maintain a level playing field across the poultry sector.
MPs had called for the avian influenza compensation scheme to be revised so compensation is paid based on the number of birds alive in the affected flock at the point of disease notification, rather than the actual number of birds culled.
There have been 175 confirmed cases of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza since 1 October 2022. This includes 148 cases in England, 21 cases in Scotland, five cases in Wales and one case in Northern Ireland.
The call for changes to the compoensation scheme was made in a letter from former farm minister Robert Goodwill. He now chairs the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which scrutinises the government’s farming policies.
But Defra secretary Therese Coffey said compensation for healthy birds culled for avian influenza control purposes was designed to encourage producers to report suspected cases of the disease promptly.
Thousands of birds have been culled across in a bid to control outbreaks. With winter outbreaks becoming much more frequent, government chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss has warned that producers must learn to live with the disease.
Changes to the compensation scheme announced last autumn mean assessments of bird health are now be made at the outset of planned culling or within 48 hours of the decision to cull affected birds, whichever is shorter.
Ms Coffey said: “This has already led to swifter payments to help stem cash flow pressures for poultry producers. The department has no plans to make any further changes, recognising the purpose of the scheme.”
The letter also asks how the government intends to support farms seeking to restock following an avian influenza outbreak. But Ms Coffey suggested there were no plans for additional government help.
Poultry producers at infected premises have a choice to either wait 12 months before restocking birds – or undertake secondary cleansing and disinfection to enable them to restock earlier, said Ms Coffey.
“The choice is therefore a commercial decision for the keeper,” she added. “In many of the recent avian influenza outbreaks, epidemiological investigations have unfortunately highlighted a strong correlation to insufficient biosecurity measures.
“While it may seem attractive for the taxpayer to subsidise restocking efforts in order to maintain supply of poultry and eggs, we must make sure there is a level playing field within the sector.”