Millions of UK Eggs have temporarily had their free range status revoked, causing a huge blow to British poultry farmers who were forced to house their poultry to meet emergency bird flu sanctions.
EU regulations state that if birds have been housed for more than 12 weeks their eggs can’t be sold as free range. The poultry industry has been in turmoil in fear of being affected by the outbreak which has been ongoing since December 2016.
There has been confirmation of a new outbreak of the H5N8 strain of bird flu in a small holding with 35 birds in Northumberland.
New Approach to Disease Control
The new approach to manage avian flu is a more targeted approach to disease control. Poultry farmers must continue to abide by strict biosecurity measures with housing or netting required in higher risk areas.
The latest veterinary advice comes after the latest outbreak in Northumberland and the free range status being revoked. This is the best option to both protect the birds’ welfare and the free range status and will apply from the 28th of February.
Still Free Range
To ensure clarity for consumers purchasing eggs, that these are free range eggs which have been forced to be housed due to the bird flu outbreak, they are being labeled “laid by hens temporarily housed in barns for their welfare”. You may have seen the first of these labels last week but they will be everywhere from the 1st of March 2017.
Mark Williams, chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council said:
Our research shows that consumers are supportive of farmers putting birds’ health first and 80% are happy to continue to pay the same price, or more, for eggs from free-range flocks temporarily housed inside.”
The UK has four different egg classifications which are clearly labeled on the boxes: organic, free-range, barn-reared, and caged.
To be classified as free range eggs hens must have had unlimited daytime access to runs – fenced areas – with vegetation and at least 4 sq m of outside space per bird.
Defra States Most Farmers in England Could Let Birds Out
As long as they follow strict disease prevention measures most poultry farmers in England could let their birds out, according to Defra.
“Producers in the higher risk areas could still market their eggs as free-range, provided they use netting and meet other free-range criteria,” a Defra spokesperson said.
However, poultry farmers say this is unrealistic as for most commercial flocks the required netting to provide the flock security if let out, would require the equivalent of eight football pitches worth of netting.
Restrictions are due to be reviewed by the government at the end of April, after the migration of wild birds, which farmers hope may lower the risk.
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