sainsburys free range egg notice

A significant number of the UK’s free-range egg producers are “looking down the barrel” of big financial losses due to the avian flu crisis.

Some 27% of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association’s members - representing more than 500 free-range farms - were stuck in Defra’s high-risk bird flu zones, said the body’s CEO, Robert Gooch.

Egg producers were subjected to a national protection zone limiting bird movement, poultry shows and gatherings on 6 December.

However, under EU rules, only poultry products housed for fewer than 12 weeks can be marketed as free-range, meaning eggs from hens that remain housed after 28 February will be classified as barn eggs.

Retailers have been carrying notices in store, warning of the effects of bird flu on the sector, for several weeks.

“If a free-range producer with 16,000 hens had to downgrade their eggs to barn they could potentially lose £6,000 a month,” Gooch warned. “That is a possibility after 28 February.”

Defra said earlier this month it planned to ease avian flu restrictions in some areas after 28 February, to “allow some free-range poultry to go outside where clear biosecurity arrangements are in place”.

The department hoped to “take a more targeted approach to controls in England and will make further announcements shortly”, environment secretary Andrea Leadsom said this week.

Many retailers had decided against altering supply contacts, Gooch said. “We applaud those who have committed to supporting free-range egg producers during this difficult period.” However, he urged them to publicly clarify their positions for the longer term to reassure suppliers. “We know restricted zones are due to run until the end of April so these producers could lose £12,000 in two months.”