Philip Dunne calls for more support for farmers affected by the avian influenza outbreak, including compensation for birds that have died from avian flu, flexibility on the labelling of free-range eggs and help to ensure retailers are willing to stock vaccinated meat.
I welcome the improvements to the compensation arrangements. I am aware that the National Farmers Union’s poultry board visited the Department last week to try to impress upon my right hon. Friend and his officials that paying compensation to farmers who have lost birds to culling but not to farmers whose birds have died from avian flu has made it very difficult to provide adequate compensation for poultry farmers whose livelihoods have been devastated by the impact of this disease, many of whom are in my south Shropshire constituency. I urge him to say whatever else he can about compensation applying to birds that have already died, prior to notification by vets.
Secondly, will my right hon. Friend comment on flexibility on the labelling of free-range eggs? The housing requirements for layers need some flexibility to allow free-range certificated flocks to continue.
Finally, the vaccine development is welcome. Will my right hon. Friend bring the same urgency to bear on avian flu vaccines as is applied to human covid vaccines? Will he engage with retailers in this country as soon as possible to ensure that they are willing to supply vaccinated meat?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his three questions. First, we have moved the date for the compensation scheme to as early as legally possible, to try to assist farmers with the challenges they face. He mentioned the labelling of free-range eggs. The law currently allows 16 weeks from the second a bird is housed, before eggs may no longer be called free-range. We have a while before the end of that 16-week period, when eggs would have to be labelled as barn-reared. That can be done with a simple label to say the eggs are barn-reared, rather than free-range.
As with covid, vaccination will be the route out of this problem, but we need our best scientists to concentrate on developing an effective vaccine. We need to work with our colleagues across the European Union so that birds and products exported for food will be accepted into their marketplace, as well as keeping conversations open with retailers to ensure they are also happy.