There is currently a temporary requirement for all farmers to keep flocks indoors as a measure to prevent the spread of a strain of avian flu. Our producers of free range eggs have temporarily housed hens in barns for their welfare.
Our suppliers are members of the British Lion scheme which has been working at UK and European level to help protect the interests of British free range flocks. The UK has the largest free range flock in Europe (19.3 million hens) and is proud of the high standards of British free range farms. Under normal circumstances birds are encouraged to range outside freely, by planting trees and providing other shelter.
There was widespread concern over the different approaches being taken by authorities in different parts of the UK following their announcements made earlier in February for an amended AIPZ (from 28th February until 30th April 2017), which presents a risk both to the health of hens and to the future of free range egg production. The situation whereby some producers could decide to let their birds out in order to maintain their free range status, while others are unable to, or are unwilling to risk the health of their hens, could compromise both animal health and consumer confidence.
BEIC (British Egg Industry Council) is aware that there are many egg producers and their veterinary advisors who are concerned that the current risk from AI (Avian Influenza) in wild birds is still too great to recommend allowing birds access to the range at this time, and that the additional biosecurity measures required are impractical for many farms. BEIC therefore believes that many free range hens are likely to need to be kept inside in barns for a further eight weeks, to protect them from AI, following concerns about the practicality of the new requirements. BEIC members therefore plan to label all free range eggs, indicating that the hens are currently being kept inside, to ensure both that individual producers are not penalised if veterinary advice is for their hens to remain inside to ensure their health, and that consumers are not confused by what they could perceive to be inconsistent labelling.
From 1st March until 30th April 2017, all BEIC members’ free range packs will have stickers on saying that the eggs have been laid by hens currently kept in barns.
Further information can be found on the DEFRA site: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu#prevention-zone
(23 February 2017)