Free range eggs and bird flu - what shoppers need to know
Some of you may have seen the headlines about avian influenza – or bird flu – circulating around the UK. This has been happening in Europe for more than six months.
Migratory wild birds coming to the UK are bringing the virus with them.
First and foremost, it is crucial that consumers understand that this strain of bird flu poses no health risk to humans eating eggs. Eggs remain a perfectly safe to eat and, as always, have fantastic nutritional qualities. But you may see some stickers appearing on free range egg boxes shortly – so this short article will tell you what’s going on.
Free range birds kept indoors
Free range hens that lay the lovely eggs you buy have access to the outside during daylight hours all year round. However, with the heightened risk of contracting bird flu, which can kill a flock of hens very quickly, the government ordered all flocks to be kept inside on 6 December 2016.
While free range egg farmers would prefer their birds to be outside, they also wouldn’t want to risk the health of their birds. Their sheds have plenty of room for the birds to move around freely and include scratching areas so birds can still display their natural instinctive behaviour.
Farmers have also put in additional stimulants like footballs, cabbages and even Christmas tress to keep the birds happy.
What happens next?
After 28 February 2017, the eggs produced by birds that are still kept inside can no longer be called free range. This is because European regulations state that after 12 weeks of the birds being inside, they must be classed as ‘barn eggs’.
Barn eggs are produced by birds which stay inside for their whole life, but that are free to move about the shed as they please.
As it stands at the time of writing, all free range egg farmers in Wales and Scotland and most in England will be allowed to let their birds out again from 1 March 2017, albeit with heightened biosecurity procedures in place to protect their birds from coming into contact with wild birds which may still be carrying the virus. Some farmers in these areas may still consider the risk too high and in consultation with their veterinary advisers, decide to keep their birds indoors.
In England the Government has identified specific areas of the country that may carry higher risk, for example areas near large bodies of water, wild bird sanctuaries etc. Farmers in ‘Higher Risk Areas’ will not be allowed to let their birds out unless they put netting over the entire outside pasture area,, which is not practical for the vast majority.
Stickers on eggs
For you, the shopper, this situation means that you may see stickers placed on egg boxes which explain that free range eggs may have been laid by birds kept inside temporarily for their own safety.
They will still taste great and will have been laid by birds who were allowed outside before 6 December, and that will be allowed outside again as soon as it is safe.
Free range egg producers really appreciate the support you give them all year round, and would like to thank you for continuing that support during what is a very difficult time.