Millions of eggs this week lost their free-range status as a result of emergency housing orders imposed in response to avian flu outbreaks.
Egg producers have been subject to a national protection zone limiting bird movement since 6 December. But, under EU rules, only poultry products housed for fewer than 12 weeks can be marketed as free-range, meaning eggs from hens that remained housed after 28 February will now be temporarily classed as barn eggs.
All British Egg Industry Council members’ free-range eggs would now carry stickers informing consumers eggs had been laid by hens kept in barns, the body said this week, despite a relaxation in Defra rules on 28 February, which allowed producers outside high-risk zones to allow birds outside if strict biosecurity conditions were met.
“We need to avoid a potential postcode lottery, whereby individual farmers could be penalised if they have chosen to temporarily continue to keep their hens inside. Therefore all of our members, supported by retailers, have taken the decision to label all free-range eggs, to help protect the future of the sector,” said BEIC CEO Mark Williams.