sainsburys free range egg notice

Eggs will regain their free-range status on Thursday, as Defra lifts housing requirements for all poultry in England.

All poultry in England will be allowed outside from 13 April, Defra said, following updated advice from the chief veterinary officer on the risks of avian flu posed by wild birds.

Once restrictions are lifted, free-range poultry products will no longer carry additional labelling to inform consumers that hens may have been kept in barns, said the British Egg Industry Council.

“The UK has the largest number of free-range hens in Europe so we are delighted to be able to let all our free-range birds roam freely again,” said BEIC CEO Mark Williams. “We are proud of the high standards of British free-range farms and will continue to maintain the highest standards of biosecurity to ensure that birds are protected from avian influenza.”

Millions of eggs and poultry products lost their free-range status at the beginning of March as a result of the housing orders imposed by Defra, which had limited bird movement since 6 December.

Under EU rules, only poultry products housed for fewer than 12 weeks can be marketed as free-range.

However, some preventative measures will remain in place, such as a ban on poultry gatherings and stricter biosecurity.

Restrictions are being relaxed after the majority of over-wintering migratory birds left the UK. There are also lower levels of resident wild waterfowl, while the breeding season has started, during which birds become less likely to move long distances to forage for food.

Since December, cases of the H5N8 strain of avian influenza have been found at farms in Northumberland, Suffolk, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, backyard flocks in North Yorkshire and Carmarthenshire, and wild birds across the UK. 

Where cases were found, a 3km protection zone and a 10km surveillance zone were put in place to limit the spread of disease. However, there are currently no protection or surveillance zone restrictions in place, with the last case of avian flu found in Suffolk at the beginning of March.

“We continually review our disease control measures in light of new scientific evidence and veterinary advice,” said chief vet Nigel Gibbens. “However, all keepers must still observe strict disease prevention measures to reduce the risk of contamination from the environment, where the virus can survive for several weeks in bird droppings.

“This does not mean business as usual. The risk from avian flu has not gone away and a prevention zone remains in place, requiring keepers across England to take steps to prevent disease spreading. We continue to keep measures under review and keepers should check for regular updates.”