LONDON - British poultry producers will be able to slaughter Christmas turkeys early, freeze and then defrost them but still sell the meat as fresh as the country deals with its worst ever bird flu outbreak, the country's farm ministry announced on Friday.

Retailers and suppliers had been calling on the government to make such a move as they look to kill turkeys early to avoid the further spread of the virus through the poultry sector, a report in the industry magazine the Grocer said last week.

Britain has faced its largest ever outbreak of avian flu with 200 confirmed cases in the last 12 months, leading to the culling of millions of birds.

"The measures mean that farmers who breed turkeys, geese or ducks for their meat will have the option to slaughter their flocks early and to freeze these products, which can then be defrosted and sold to consumers between the period 28 November and 31 December 2022," the ministry said in a statement.

Britain produces more than 11 million turkeys every year of which just under two-thirds are consumed over the Christmas period.

Farmers will also now be paid compensation from the outset of a planned cull rather than at the end, the ministry said.

(Reporting by Nigel Hunt; editing by David Evans)