bird flu outbreak© Getty

Last November’s outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza on a Cherry Valley duck breeding farm in East Yorkshire has cost the firm in excess of £1m, before taking into account any consequential losses.

The company, together with the NFU on behalf of affected duck producers, is pressing government for compensation, to help offset some of these losses.

Cherry Valley managing director John Vernam said he was anticipating compensation for any healthy ducks that were destroyed, as set out in government guidelines. But it remained unclear whether there would be any contribution towards the value of eggs that were destroyed on farm.

See also: Bird flu restrictions lifted in East Yorkshire

More significantly, there was no word about compensation for the 600,000 hatching eggs in the company’s Usselby hatchery, which also had to be destroyed.

The loss of these eggs had effectively created a three-week vacuum in the company’s supply chain, Mr Vernam told Poultry World, leaving growers short of ducklings, the processing division short of ducks and customers short of meat.

“It has cost us a small fortune,” he said. “Not only was there the loss of stock, but we also had to keep paying our staff and meet other costs while having less to sell.”

On top of this, the company has had to foot the bill for cleaning and disinfecting its Nafferton duck breeding farm, which has run into the “tens of thousands of pounds”.

“These are just our direct costs, which are quite apart from any consequential losses we might have suffered as a result of lost sales,” said Mr Vernam. The company also continues to suffer from the fact that some of the markets for breeding stock and hatching eggs remain closed, until such time as the UK regains its AI-free status (expected in May).

“It is unbelievable that a single case of avian influenza should have such far-reaching consequences, not just for our company, but the whole poultry sector. And in spite of wide ranging investigations by the APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency), it is a concern that it has not been possible to establish the source of the infection and hence the most likely route by which it entered the farm.”

The NFU is also seeking recompense from Defra for 12 of its members, who lost income as a result of having no ducklings delivered in the immediate aftermath of the November AI outbreak.