Why the UK ‘Free-range’ Eggs You Have Been Eating Are Not as Advertised at the Moment


February 17, 2017

Since December the eggs in your fridge no longer follow free range rules - despite what the label might say

As the UK and Europe finds itself in the midst of an outbreak of bird flu it could mean a blow for those who take an ethical stance on their food.

Since December UK birds - including those usually reared as free-range - have been kept indoors to prevent them becoming infected with avian influenza.

This means it's more than likely that the eggs in your fridge no longer follow free range rules - despite what the label might say.

So here's five things you need to know about bird flu and free range eggs.

In the UK, an egg can only be labelled as free range if the hens that laid them have been given constant daytime access to an outside range with vegetation.

The H5N8 strain of Avian Influenza has been circulating in Europe for several weeks.

An outbreak was confirmed in turkeys at a farm in Lincolnshire on December 16 last year and swift action taken to limit the risk of spread, including a 3km Protection Zone and a 10km Surveillance Zone around the infected farm.

The disease has also been found in wild birds in Wales, England and Scotland.

Public Health England advises that the risk to public health remains very low and the Food Standards Agency is clear that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

Even so, as a precaution, The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has put into force the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone.

On December 6 last year, Defra introduced strict rules to help protect poultry and captive birds from avian flu and to stop the spread of infection.

The Avian Influenza Prevention Zone requires that keepers of poultry and other captive birds keep their birds indoors, or take appropriate practical steps to keep them separate from wild birds.

The zone covers England and similar declarations have been made in Scotland and Wales.

There is also a GB-wide ban on poultry shows and gatherings.

There is a bit of a conflict between the rules regulating free range eggs and the Government's Avian Influenza Prevention Zone. Under the rules birds must be kept inside - which makes it impossible for them to have the constant outside access to qualify as free range.

The Government has now said it will allow some birds outside again from the end of this month - but only if strict security measures are in place nationally and with birds continuing to remain inside or with range netting in higher risk areas which include those poultry farms close to inland or coastal waters.

Under Defra regulations, once a Prevention Zone has been declared, birds can be housed for up to 12 weeks and still maintain their free range status.

In January, The UK's Chief Veterinary Officer, Nigel Gibbens, announced the zone will be extended until February 28 to help protect poultry and captive birds from avian flu.

The prevention zone was first introduced on December 6.

That means that all birds and poultry still housed from February 28 onwards cannot be called free range any longer but will be labelled as being from barns.

Which might mean a lot of labels will change.

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