Avian influenza – supporting members through critical times

James Mottershead

James Mottershead

NFU Poultry Board chair (West Midlands member)

First published: 22 November 2022

A picture of James Mottershead

James Mottershead outlines the NFU's activity throughout the ongoing challenges of AI (avian influenza), our four simple asks of government and key meetings we're holding with government officials. 

As your NFU Poultry Board chair and a fellow poultry producer, I know all too well that the constant onslaught of avian influenza is devastating to us all.

I want you, our members, to know that your poultry representatives and NFU experts are doing everything they can to support you and your business. We are working to ensure the government listens to our asks and acts when and where it is needed most.

Regrettably the number of AI outbreaks continues to increase with more than 120 cases in poultry and captive birds confirmed since the 1 October 2022 in the UK.

At the NFU we are continuously meeting with policymakers, stakeholders and industry leaders to stress the impact of this horrendous disease on both farm businesses and growers themselves.

I would urge you to look at our activity tracker which outlines all of the ways we’ve worked on your behalf to date. See: NFUonline | Avian influenza – how the NFU is working to support you

The NFU’s action plan

On 27 October I attended an AI summit meeting hosted by biosecurity minister Lord Benyon and the farming minister Mark Spencer MP. It was at this meeting members – like you and I - explained the impacts of AI on our businesses and NFU President Minette Batters reiterated concerns about the future of food security.

The message was loud and clear: poultry businesses need support now more than ever.

Policymakers must understand the escalating situation and the real-time impact this is having on poultry producers.

We have:

  • Briefed MPs ahead of parliamentary sessions on AI
  • Created a template letter for growers to write to their MP, highlighting the challenges on farm and what support we need
  • Held meetings with Lord Benyon and the Farming Minister, Mark Spencer MP, to discuss the importance of progress on actions to help poultry producers
  • Appeared on national media including BBC News, Sky News and Times Radio, as well as appearing in print in The Daily Express, Mail Online, Sunday Times and farming press.

Our lobbying asks

  1. Expand the regional housing measures on a national basis to reflect the increase in the levels of risk across the country

  2. Ensure that the government’s compensation protocol and payment scheme for premises which are confirmed with AI is fit for purpose

  3. Review the marketing legislation which currently provides a 16-week protection period for the marketing of free-range eggs when government housing measures are imposed

  4. Provide support on longer term measures for the government and industry to deal with AI as an annual occurrence – ie, research into vaccination.

Housing measures

On 7 October I called an extraordinary National Poultry Board meeting where your regional representatives discussed the NFU’s response to the developing situation and the board were unanimous in calling for the government to implement immediate housing measures as a preventative measure across GB.

As you will be aware, housing measures were introduced in Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex from 12 October 2022 and were put in place across the rest of England from 7 November 2022.

Defra has confirmed, however, that, in the event that the housing measures exceed the 16-week derogation (which permits the labelling of eggs from compulsorily housed birds as “free range” under the relevant legislation), the 16-week derogation period will not be extended.

I know that having different 16-week period start dates regionally across GB is far from ideal. As such, we are already in close dialogue with the government and other key stakeholders, including retailers, to highlight the issues that will be faced across the supply chain as consequence of this position.

Eggs – market availability issues

Alongside our support for the industry to navigate the largest AI outbreak on record, the NFU has been warning the government, retailers and food businesses that input cost inflation has been putting enormous pressure on producers in the poultry sector since we started exiting from Covid restrictions in 2021.

We further highlighted the additional pressure we saw as a result of the war in Ukraine and we have not stopped lobbying government and industry to adapt and protect domestic supply.

I know that for some of you the pressure is building and in some parts of the sector such as eggs, constrained supply and higher demand mean availability is lower than normal in some stores for some retailers.

We continue to be in regular dialogue with retailers and major food businesses and have asked the government at the highest level to investigate the market availability issues and fairness in the supply chain in order to better understand the role that AI is playing, alongside other market pressures, in the future profile of UK demand and production. I urge you to read more about ongoing NFU activity to raise these critical issues on your behalf at: NFUonline | Availability of British eggs – what's happening and what the NFU is doing

AI member letter template to MPs

Use our AI member letter to MPs template to write to your local MP to highlight the challenges being faced on farm and the support needed from the government.

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