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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Free range fiasco amid avian flu fears

Free-range eggs will vanish from supermarket shelves today (21 March) as British hens have spent the last four months indoors through ongoing fears of avian flu outbreaks.

Eggs sold in stores will be labelled “barn eggs”, the reference given to eggs produced by birds permanently housed indoors.

Both “barn” and “free range” eggs meet the RSPCA’s welfare standards, because the hens that lay them have freedom and space to move around, along with perches for roosting and nest boxes.

Over the winter period, the UK was hit by the “largest-ever outbreak of avian flu” with more than 80 confirmed outbreaks across the country and deaths of thousands of birds.

To stop the disease from spreading, birds reared for meat and eggs have been ordered by the UK government to be kept indoors.

Under EU law, free-range laying hens can be kept indoors for up to 16 weeks for their eggs to still be labelled free-range. However, that period is now at an end.

Aimee Mahony, chief poultry adviser at the National Farmers’ Union, said the government’s advice was that there was “still a high level of risk” to birds of catching flu.

“This is an incredibly difficult time for all bird owners and vigilance remains vital,” she added.

Ms Mahony said farmers were following “stringent biosecurity measures” and adapting hen houses to make birds more comfortable.

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