Free Range Labelling Under Threat Due to Bird Flu - What Will Europe Do?

EU - Many countries in Europe have forced poultry indoors to protect them from a dangerous type of avian influenza, but EU rules mean that if the birds are ordered indoors for more than twelve weeks their products can no longer be listed as free range.
calendar icon 26 January 2017
clock icon 3 minute read

In Great Britain, the housing order lasts until 28 February, which is also when this 'derogation period' ends, meaning free range status will be lost if the government decides to extend the housing order beyond this point.

In Northern Ireland, the housing order has recently been extended to 16 March - one day before their derogation period ends. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs there cited the continued risk posed by the disease as the reason for the extension.

In several other countries, the situation is even more urgent, with Germany's derogation period expiring on 31 January, the Netherlands' expiring on 1 February and Denmark's and Hungary' ending on 7 February.

In a blog post about the potential loss of free range status, the National Farmers Union's Chief Poultry advisor Gary Ford wrote: "The impact that this will have on the British free range poultry industry has huge long term implications – a situation that weighs heavily on mind."

In a meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council of the EU on Monday, the Dutch delegation drew the attention of the Council to the outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in several EU countries since October 2016, and to the consequences of prolonged mandatory confinement of poultry on organic and free-range egg production and on the potential economic losses for producers.

In particular it called on the EU's Commission to consider a one-time derogation to allow extension of the 12-week confinement period without producers having to change labelling from free range to barn eggs. Several different countries, including the UK, supported the Dutch request.

The Commission has committed to reflecting on the issue and working with affected member states to discuss further.

However, the NFU reported that Commissioner Hogan, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, said consumers must also be protected, and that a balance needed to be struck between helping producers on one hand, and consumers on the other.

Further Reading

You can visit the avian flu page by clicking here.

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