Norfolk poultry farmers said a new government bird flu support package does not do enough to help virus-stricken businesses.

Defra has announced a series of new measures to assist farmers hit by the UK's worst-ever outbreak of avian influenza.

Norfolk has become the epicentre of the crisis, with more than 40 confirmed cases since the start of October, forcing the culls of hundreds of thousands of chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks.

The new government plans include altering the existing compensation scheme to allow farmers to be paid from the outset of planned culling rather than at the end, to "help stem any cash flow pressures".

After consultation with the Food Standards Agency, marketing rules are also being eased to allow farmers who breed turkeys, geese or ducks for meat the option to slaughter their flocks early and to freeze these products, which can then be defrosted and sold to consumers between November 28 and December 31.

Farming minister Mark Spencer said he hoped these "practical solutions" will help provide greater financial certainty for the sector as it battles "this insidious disease".

But Norfolk poultry farmer Mark Gorton said these measures "don't go anywhere near far enough".

Mr Gorton, who runs Traditional Norfolk Poultry based at Shropham near Attleborough and is also a member of the National Farmers' Union's poultry board, said his sector was asking for three things:

  • Compensation to be paid from the date the disease is reported by the farmer
  • Faster payment, clarity on how much and when this will be paid, and help with the financial impact of clean-up operations
  • Legislation to allow birds to be vaccinated to secure the sector's future

He added: "I was in an industry meeting with 60 poultry farmers and everyone is starting to say: What future have we got? The only way is to vaccinate, without that it will just keep rolling on and on."

Earlier this month, the UK's chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said existing vaccines used in other countries are "not hugely effective" against current bird flu strains, and they make it difficult to identify the difference between infected and vaccinated birds - causing problems for monitoring programmes.

The worsening situation in East Anglia has led to the enforcement of a mandatory housing order requiring all captive birds in Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex to be brought indoors to limit the spread of the disease, along with strict biosecurity rules.

This week, Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said these measures were not enough to halt a crisis which demands a "war footing" from government.