Avian influenza is set to become endemic in Britain’s wild bird population within 18 months, claim researchers who forecast the devastation of the free-range and organic sectors unless the government agrees a preventative vaccination plan for poultry.

The government is wedded to outdated and barbaric policies of fighting disease by culling and destruction without proper investigation of alternative, vaccination policies, according to a report by the Elm Farm Research Centre.

“At the very least – as avian influenza seems likely to become established in the UK during 2007 – the government should be drawing up plans and obtaining the necessary approvals and stocks of vaccines,” states the document.

“A truly rational government would acknowledge that preventative vaccination is the most effective method of combating avian influenza in the modern world and would now be preparing to vaccinate all outdoor and organic flocks.”

Research centre director Lawrence Woodward told Farmers Weekly there were no credible scientific or human health reasons against the use of vaccination to prevent avian flu spreading.

But the government disagrees.

It insists that arguments in favour of preventative vaccination are based on flawed science, despite announcing plans earlier this month to stockpile a further 10m doses of avian flu vaccine for poultry.

In a written statement to MPs, junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw said:

“We should not vaccinate poultry in advance of an avian influenza outbreak because of the well documented limitations of the vaccines currently available.”