UK - Farming organisations have reacted with relief to the new rules proposed by the government to deal with bird flu, which should preserve free range status for many egg producers around the country.
If housing orders in place to prevent bird flu had continued beyond the end of February, poultry products could no longer have been labelled free range across the country, under EU rules. The proposed changes allow birds outside under certain conditions in most of the country, although those in high risk areas will still have to be housed or have ranges covered with netting.
High risk areas will include those near the coast or large bodies of water, and farming organisations still have concerns about producers in these areas.
The British Free Range Egg Producers Association says its priority is now to help those producers who are in the High Risk Area to overcome the challenge of temporarily losing their free range status.
Chief Executive Robert Gooch said: “Our members have coped fantastically with the unprecedented challenge of housing their birds.
“But there are those producers in the High Risk Area who will be forced to continue to house birds. They face the prospect of their eggs being downgraded which we estimate to cost businesses at least 20p per dozen.
“At this stage we are unsure of the exact number of producers that are going to have to continue to house their flocks, but BFREPA is already working with the government, packers, retailers and industry to find solutions for these producers and will continue to do so.”
Free range producers have placed additional enrichments in sheds to keep birds entertained, but labour and feed costs in some instances have increased. BFREPA said producers would be relieved to get birds outside again.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) President Meurig Raymond said: “Free-range poultry producers now face significant threats to their businesses after Defra’s introduction of Higher Risk Areas. The affected producers will now lose free-range status from 1 March and this will have a considerable effect on the supply chain."
He added: “The NFU has concerns over the complexity that this system brings to the supply chain but the lifting of the housing order will be welcome news to producers outside Higher Risk Areas. Producers should assess the risk of AI on their farms appropriately before allowing their birds into the range area.
“We will be working with all free-range producers to ensure that they are as prepared as possible when new changes come into place.”
Meanwhile, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Veterinary Poultry Association (BVPA) said: “These measures, informed by the best scientific evidence available in what is a complex situation, are sensible and proportionate.
"We know that for farmers and bird keepers in the Higher Risk Areas this will not be the news they were hoping for but it is vital that these important precautions are taken to protect the health of birds."
You can visit the avian flu page by clicking here.