> Bird Watchers: Avian Housing Order Prolonged - The Food Safety Company Bird Watchers: Avian Housing Order Prolonged - The Food Safety Company
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    Tuesday, 21 February 2017

    Bird Watchers: Avian Housing Order Prolonged

    A nasty bout of bird flu, H5N8, has been sweeping across Europe since December. Though there has been no food safety threat to humans, the domestic bird population has been forced indoors following an order by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The governing body imposed an avian influenza protection zone (AIPZ) in order to inhibit the spread of avian influenza across the UK. Despite the imposition, 23,000 birds were culled following an outbreak in Suffolk.

    While housing birds indoors drastically cuts down the risk of infection, it also puts egg-laying hens on a timeline. Most of the egg industry in the UK produces free-range eggs – eggs laid by hens who are allowed outdoors in the daytime to scurry about their plot of land before coming in for the night. The mandatory housing order, AIPZ, required that all domestic birds be kept indoors until the influenza threat passed.

    Img: Defra
    Defra regulation states that birds may keep their free-range status even if housed indoors. However, the housing must not exceed 12 weeks. If it does, eggs from those hens will no longer be considered free-range. AIPZ was put into place 6th of December and is set to be lifted 28th of February. This timeline syncs with the Defra regulation, allowing many hens to keep their free-range status. Unfortunately, as H5N8 has continued to pose a risk in certain areas, the order will remain in places that Defra designates high risk.

    For a large majority of the country, the lifted ban comes just in time to let loose their hens within the 12-week timeline, ensuring their eggs are classified as free-range. Farms in high risk areas are feeling the strain of the regulation, forced to change their egg status to barn. The change is taking a financial toll on egg farmers across the country with an estimated 25% of English domestic birds in higher risk zones. As such, food retailers are making important decisions regarding the sale of eggs.

    Several Marks and Spencer Select free-range egg producers have been downgraded to barn eggs. So as not to abandon these hard-working farmers in this tumultuous time, M&S has pledged to continue paying free-range prices for their eggs. Head of agriculture and Fisheries Steven McLean wrote a letter to M&S egg producers:

    “We understand that the threat of avian influenza continues to jeopardise both industry and livelihoods, and to cause uncertainty and worry for many of you. We will continue to honour the free range price for the eggs we purchase, regardless of whether your birds can range or not. In many cases we’ve enjoyed long associations with individual farms for over 20 years. We’re very grateful for your continued support and want to reciprocate by reiterating our commitment to you at this time.”

    M&S is the first food retailer to offer financial support to their egg farmers. Their monetary backing will ensure that affected farms are able to keep up and running through the indefinite compulsory housing order. M&S is just one of the major supermarket chains affected. Tesco and the Co-Op have also started to alert their customers to the free-range change.

    In Ireland, the 12-week period is set to expire March 17. The country is debating options to preserve the free-range status for farmers who will be forced to prolong the housing order (those in high risk areas). Minister of State Andrew Doyle is considering a new labelling system. A new overlay label has been suggested, one that “could explain the position to the consumer.” Commenting on the matter to Agriland, Doyle said “There have been a number of suggestions and these have been left for consideration and comment from all sectors, so it is an ongoing consultation.” 

    Jacqui Litvan

    Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).
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