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Poultry farmers win High Court fight over compensation for culled birds

The poultry farmers won their court battle (PA)
The poultry farmers won their court battle (PA)

Poultry farmers have won a High Court fight against the Government over compensation for birds affected by avian flu.

The High Court in London previously heard that under animal health legislation, officials can “condemn to slaughter” healthy birds to curb the spread of avian flu, subject to an obligation to pay compensation.

Seven producers, supported by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), brought legal action against the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) over how the payments were calculated.

At a hearing in December, barrister Malcolm Birdling said the Government was unlawfully failing to properly compensate farmers for healthy birds condemned to be slaughtered, adding the producers had suffered “devastating” losses.

In a judgment on Friday, Mrs Justice Hill ruled in favour of the farmers, with ministers now required to reconsider the compensation payable to the producers in the case as a result.

Under a previous policy, the compensation was paid based on how many birds were healthy on the date of culling.

Farmers said while there was a two-day target between the decision to cull and the culling, they had faced delays of up to two weeks, with more birds becoming diseased and therefore not counted for compensation.

The court heard that one of the producers in the case lost nearly 500,000 birds at one site due to the delay, with a financial loss of £1.5 million, though this figure was disputed by Defra.

A new policy was introduced in 2022, but in her 24-page ruling, Mrs Justice Hill said both policies were unlawful.

She said: “The new policy constitutes a relatively minor change to the calculation of compensation, it does little to mitigate the impacts.”

The judge added: “The fact that biosecurity measures can prevent the spread of avian influenza does not, in my judgment, necessarily prove – as the defendant contended – that it is proper to compensate keepers only for those healthy birds actually slaughtered rather than those condemned.”