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Free-range egg producers in ‘dire’ situation as new bird flu labelling rules come in

Free range eggs are no longer available in the UK due to the continuing housing order in place since November 2021 as a result of the bird flu outbreak. The mandatory housing measures, which were rolled out on 29 November 2021, were not lifted on Monday (21 March). From this date, the 16-week grace period that was in place for the marketing of free range eggs ended. This means that eggs from hens temporarily housed in barns for their welfare can no longer be marketed as free range. Instead, eggs sold in retailers now have a sticker or label on the packing describing them as 'barn eggs'.


Food Labelling Services comments:

A free range egg is understood by consumers that the hens are housed in better conditions than the equivalent barn laid egg, and therefore they command a premium. The EU egg marketing regulation stipulates that for eggs to be termed 'free range', hens must have continuous daytime access to runs which are mainly covered with vegetation and a maximum stocking density of 2,500 birds per hectare. DEFRA gave a 16 week exemption that due to the Avian Flu outbreak, 'Free Range' hens could be housed to protect them for up to 16 weeks. However, this period has now ended. Will all hens still incarcerated, their eggs no longer comply with the 'Free Range' criteria, and therefore to prevent misleading the consumer, clear communication that the hens are housed in barns should be highlighted on free range egg cartons as from 21st March 2022 until such a time that the criteria can be fulfilled.