Millions of UK eggs temporarily lose free-range status after bird flu measures

Under strict European Union rules, all birds which have been kept indoors for more than 12 weeks can no longer be market with the free range label

Zlata Rodionova
Tuesday 28 February 2017 11:54
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Free range egg packs will now temporarily carry stickers from 1 March, informing consumers that the eggs have been laid by hens currently kept in barns
Free range egg packs will now temporarily carry stickers from 1 March, informing consumers that the eggs have been laid by hens currently kept in barns

Millions of British eggs on supermarket shelves are set to temporarily lose their free range status as farmers were forced to coop their bird up in barns to prevent the spread of bird flu.

In December, the Government ordered farmers to keep their poultry indoors as it declared a "prevention zone" after the breakout of highly pathogenic avian flu.

Under strict European Union rules, all birds which have been kept indoors for more than 12 weeks can no longer be market with the free range label.

Although the emergency measures are being scaled back, many farmers are keeping their hens indoors for the birds' protection.

The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), which represents more than 95 per cent of UK free range egg production, said free range egg packs will now temporarily carry stickers from 1 March, informing consumers that the eggs have been laid by hens currently kept in barns.

“These are all still free-range hens, but some are temporarily housed to protect them from bird flu. Free range producers still incur the same costs for land and staff while birds are housed, and in many cases are facing increased costs for additional biosecurity,” Mark Williams, BEIC chief executive, said.

“We need to avoid a potential ‘postcode lottery’ whereby individual farmers could be penalised if they have chosen to temporarily continue to keep their hens inside. Therefore all of our members, supported by retailers, have taken the decision to label all free range eggs, to help protect the future of the British free range sector,” he added.

Four different types of eggs are currently sold in UK supermarkets that carry stamps that mark them as carrying stamps organic, free-range, barn-reared or caged.

The Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that the restrictions in some areas are likely to remain in place until at least the end of April.

The Government’s chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, said that based on clear scientific evidence, the risk that chickens could be contaminated by wild birds is too high in some areas of England.

“That’s why we are requiring birds in higher risk areas to be housed or protected from wild bird contact by netting,” Mr Gibbens said.

“We believe this is the best approach to control disease, protect birds’ welfare and ensure consumers can buy free range products. As with any disease control measures these will be kept under review based on the latest situation and up-to-date scientific advice,” he added.

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