Stuart Agnew MEP joins UK egg industry representatives today in condemning the European bureaucracy that could mean the impending loss of free range eggs from British supermarkets. Under emergency measures intended to protect flocks against avian flu, all UK free range chickens are currently being housed to reduce potential contact with migrating wild birds. If this housing period extends beyond 12 weeks, under EU rules these chickens will no longer be allowed to be called “free range” and their eggs sold as “barn reared” instead.
As Mr Agnew explains, “Whilst the technical standards are absolutely essential to allow consumers to have confidence in free range eggs and chicken meat, I think British consumers are more than capable of understanding that a temporary housing order for these animals own protection is an exceptional situation. Unlike barn reared birds, free range birds will be allowed outdoors again as soon as the danger has passed. That is a fundamental difference”.
"One irony is that organic chickens, supposedly a higher welfare standard than free range, are only required to spend "at least one third" of their lives outdoors. As a result, organic eggs in the UK will still be sold as organic even if they have been temporarily housed for periods in excess of 12 weeks.
"The double standard is confusing for customers and downright unfair for our dedicated free range chicken farmers” says Mr Agnew.
"Poultry farmers do not receive EU subsidies like other farmers, so any impact on the slim margins they are paid for eggs could be devastating for their businesses and extremely difficult for the egg retail and manufacturing sectors to cope with.
"We urgently need clarity and some common sense on this from the Commission, or a lead from Trading Standards in the UK. Give us a temporary derogation on the 12 week indoor housing rule before the free range eggs run out".