According to pressure group, Animal Justice Project, the UK government has ‘wasted over £44 million of taxpayers’ hard-earned money on bailing out poultry farmers via the Bird Flu Compensation Scheme  over the past five years. The new findings have been revealed in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent to the Animals and Plant Health Agency (APHA) by Animal Justice Project. Living through what has been said to be our worst ever avian flu outbreak , the handouts are increasing year on year, jumping from £2,604,083 in 2021 to a staggering £41,508,804 in 2022 . Over 7.48 million farmed birds have lost their lives here in the UK to the H5N1 strain from the virus itself or culls in response to outbreaks, between October 2021 and January 2023, equivalent to the deaths of 17,000 sentient individuals every day .
“The true cost of government hand-outs, however, isn’t just millions of pounds worth of the nations’ taxes” Claire Palmer, Animal Justice Project spokesperson says. 140 million birds worldwide have already experienced “agonising” deaths because of bird flu over the past year alone , mainly in mass culls. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that 150 million people across the world could lose their lives  to a pandemic causing over 20 times more deaths than Covid-19 has  if it mutates into a strain more transmissible to humans , having already been identified in mammals such as foxes and otters who have fed on infected birds in the UK .
The average size of each payment made under last year’s Bird Flu Compensation Scheme  was a staggering £165,374. The majority of these falling into the pockets of just 251 poultry farmers who already turn over massive profits operating vast Intensive Poultry Units (IPUs), where over tens to hundreds of thousands of birds are crammed into sheds . These sheds, which are only cleaned after birds are slaughtered at a few weeks old, are breeding grounds for zoonotic diseases , with each bird capable of transferring the virus to 100 other birds  via bodily fluids e.g. faeces , which Animal Justice Project’s Off the Scales campaign reveals they spend almost all their lives lying in . These pathogens have traveled far outside of commercial farms, even claiming the lives of eight penguins at Marwell Zoo in Hampshire .
More than 400,000 free-living birds in the UK have also fallen victim to the fatal H5N1 strain of bird flu , with the British Trust for Ornithology likening the ecological damage of bird flu to that caused by DDT pesticides in the 1950s and 1960s . With a fatality rate of 90% in birds , avian populations simply can’t withstand the continued spread of H5N1.
Over 40 million birds have failed to survive the UK’s steep decline in biodiversity over the past 50 years already . The main driver in their habitats’ destruction has been the expansion of highly inefficient animal farming , with 85% of farmlands used to rear animals despite only providing 32% of consumers’ caloric intake . Instead of propping up this industry harming birds in farms and the countryside, our government must meet the demands made by Animal Justice Project, whose activists scaled their building in December  to call for the urgent implementation of a plant-based food system .
The Office for Budget Responsibility have forecasted the steepest decline in living standards on record , with the number of people living in poverty in the UK expected to have skyrocketed by over 3 million between 2021 and 2023  due to Covid and the rising cost of living. A bird flu pandemic would only exacerbate this, and Animal Justice Project explain that we need to subsidise the farming of produce, as recommended in the National Food Strategy , rather than pump £44 million into animal agriculture, to make a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables and grains affordable for all and eradicate the avian influenza birds are being facing, and which humans are experience catastrophic effects from themselves.
Ayrton Cooper, Animal Justice Project Campaign Manager says: Instead of funding the acceleration of an imminent bird flu pandemic, our government must subsidise plant-based food production. Whilst it is shocking to witness the immense animal suffering bird flu continues to cause, over 20 million ‘meat’ chickens alone experience painful deaths every week in UK slaughterhouses , increasing annually . Consumers have the power to fight for a safer and kinder food system for all by purchasing vegan products instead of funding animal agriculture. The true cost of the hand-outs isn’t just millions of pounds worth of the nations’ taxes. Yet our government, who are responsible for protecting public health, are actively accelerating the virus’ development by propping up the poultry industry, which perpetuates its development.
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
INTERVIEWS / FURTHER INFORMATION
Ayton Cooper, Campaigns Manager - M: + 44 (0) 7512 037157 E: firstname.lastname@example.org