The producers of free-range egg and poultry meat are appealing to EU decision-makers to let them keep their free-range status despite having to keep their livestock indoors to avoid bird flu.
The current rules allow poultry meat and eggs to be called free-range for up to 12 weeks if a compulsory housing order is in place. Producers are concerned that if the current order is extended they will lose their status and market premium after February 28.
UK farming union presidents, including Allan Bowie from NFU Scotland, are to hold urgent discussions in Europe where they will urge Commission officials to extend the status of poultry impacted by the housing order until the risk from avian influenza subsides.
In a joint statement the presidents said: “With this outbreak of avian influenza, we are in uncharted territory and this situation requires new measures that will help to solve the concerns of producers.
“Farmers across the UK and Europe need this extension to give them certainty that their produce will have a market. The demand from shoppers for free-range eggs and poultry meat has increased significantly over the past 25 years and we want our producers to be able to provide this for them.”
Half the UK national flock is free-range which is by far the highest percentage of any member state.
“If these steps aren’t taken to protect the industry, producers are facing the very real prospect that they could go out of business and the UK market will be unable to enjoy the free-range products they demand,” the statement said.
“British farmers have been quick to introduce enhanced biosecurity measures and have ensured that the welfare of their birds remains an absolute priority.”
The UK has documented eight cases of the disease in domestic poultry flocks and the four farming unions have been working closely with Defra, the devolved administrations, and the EU to deal with the outbreak.