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Bird flu latest: Free-range eggs to return but farmers still in crisis

Free-range eggs will be available again but farmers say they are still in crisis.
Free-range eggs will be available again but farmers say they are still in crisis.

Free-range egg producers have welcomed news of an end to bird flu housing rules but warned they are still at breaking point due to rising costs.

This week the UK Government confirmed flockdown – the housing order requiring poultry farmers and birdkeepers to keep their birds indoors to prevent the spread of bird flu – will end at 00.01am on Monday May 2.

The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) said more than 27 million free-range and organic hens will be allowed outside again from Monday, and free-range eggs will also be available again.

Eggs from free-range flocks had to be temporarily reclassified as barn eggs after 16 weeks of flockdown.

Free-range eggs have carried labelling explaining why they are from hens housed indoors.

“It’s really good news that shoppers will soon have free-range eggs available on the shelves, and British farmers are extremely grateful to consumers for continuing to buy eggs from these flocks even though they have been temporarily re-classified as barn eggs,” said BFREPA chief executive officer, Robert Gooch.

He said although farmers will be relieved to let their birds outside again, they are still at breaking point due to soaring costs of production.

“While it’s a relief to my members, lifting the housing order does not solve the crisis facing the egg sector,” added Mr Gooch.

“It will not remove the huge hikes in energy, transport, feed and labour costs they are experiencing; the picture is bleak.”

He said a recent survey found 51% of free-range and organic egg farmers were considering leaving the industry, and 70% plan to leave the industry within a year if price rises aren’t forthcoming.

Free-range hens.

“Even a small number coming out of egg production would lead to egg shortages, which we predict will come later this year,” added Mr Gooch.

He said the association is currently campaigning for egg price increases –  of at least 40p per dozen for free-range eggs and 80p per dozen for organic eggs – and for the price increases to be passed to farmers.

BFREPA has called a crisis summit for May 10 and invited retailer representatives to attend to discuss how to resolve the issues facing the sector.

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