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UPDATE 1-Half of Britain's free range Christmas turkeys lost to bird flu crisis

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LONDON, Nov 29 (Reuters) -

Britons may struggle to get hold of a free range turkey or goose for the Christmas table this year after an industry head said about half of them had either died or been culled due to the country's largest-ever outbreak of avian flu.

Richard Griffiths, Chief Executive of the British Poultry Council, told lawmakers that British farmers usually produce 1.2 to 1.3 million free range birds for the festive period.

"We have seen around 600,000 of those free range birds being directly affected," he said.

Giving evidence to parliament's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Griffiths said total turkey production for Christmas in the UK was usually about 8.5 to 9 million birds. Of these just over one million had died or been culled.

He did not know what the impact would be on prices.

"That is really a question for retailers at this point. We do not know how the gaps within retail are going to be filled," he said.

The major supermarket groups have so far been relatively relaxed in their public statements about turkey availability at Christmas.

Market leader Tesco said in October it expected to be able to satisfy demand, while earlier this month

Sainsbury's

said it had ordered more turkeys for Christmas this year than last year, giving it a buffer in case the crisis did hinder supply.

Also,

Marks & Spencer

, which typically sells one in four fresh turkeys consumed in the UK at Christmas, said it had strong plans to protect supply.

Griffiths said that since the beginning of October there had been nearly 140 cases of bird flu in the UK, with 1.6 million birds culled.

He said 36% of poultry farms in the UK were now subject to avian flu controls which means birds must be kept indoors.

"So it's huge and the .. costs for industry and food production are potentially enormous." (Reporting by James Davey; editing by William James)

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