Egg labelling changes have been introduced for poultry that have had to be housed due to avian influenza.
From today (Wednesday 1 February), eggs originating from free range flocks in the east of England (Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex) will need to be labelled as barn eggs. The concession will apply to the rest of England from the 27th February. This in line with Egg Marketing Standards Regulations. The commencement date marks the end of the 16-week grace period given after the introduction of a regional (12 October 2022) and subsequent national mandatory housing order (7 November 2022).
In recognition of current elevated input costs facing the industry along with the impacts of AI, Defra will allow the same packaging concessions that were granted last year. This means where other options are not feasible, such as over-stickering or marketing eggs in “barn reared” egg boxes, industry will be allowed the use of direct print to pack or an affixed label on free-range boxes to communicate to consumers that the eggs have come from hens that are now barn reared.
Over the last two years, the United Kingdom has faced its largest ever outbreak of avian influenza with over 300 cases confirmed since late October 2021 of which over 270 have been in England.
The enhanced biosecurity measures including housing mandated by the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) currently in force in England have been vital in protecting flocks across the country from avian influenza.
Housing combined with stringent biosecurity measures provide greater risk reduction and together these measures have been key in driving the avian influenza case rate down in the face of unprecedented wild bird infections.
The labelling will remain in place until the housing order is lifted.
Farming Minister Mark Spencer said:
Farmers and poultry producers are facing real pressures as a result of this avian influenza outbreak. We hope the labelling concessions announced today will help ease the burden industry is facing.
We are very mindful of the need to maintain consumer confidence in the free-range brand long-term and appreciate the continued cooperation from the sector as we battle this insidious disease.
As required by the legislation, an indication of the farming method must continue to appear on the outer surface of packs containing the eggs in easily visible and clearly legible type. Eggs must also be stamped with the appropriate code to show that the farming method has changed from ‘free-range’ or 1UK to ‘barn’ production or 2UK. Eggs should not be stamped with two codes.
Industry must put in place one of the requirements for marketing eggs laid on or after the expiry of the 16-week derogation below. These are, in order of preference:
- Eggs are to be sold in “barn egg” boxes in order to clearly display the farming method of the eggs.
- Over-stickering “free-range” boxes by placing a sticker over the “free-range” text in order to obscure or interrupt it leaving the correct farming method (“Barn Eggs”) easily visible and clearly legible to the consumer. The over-lay sticker must be of suitable material to be affixed to allow for good adhesion and to prevent any labels dislodging before sale to the final consumer.
- The use of direct print to pack or an affixed label on free-range boxes where the words “Barn Eggs” are included in the ‘Best Before’ section for domestic sales. The words “Barn Eggs” should be easily visible and clearly legible.
Clear and transparent Point of Sale (POS) signage is also crucial to ensure consumers are not misled, and to avoid undermining consumer confidence in the free-range industry.
This announcement follows new government support for the poultry industry announced last October, allowing compensation to be paid to farmers from the outset of planned culling rather than at the end. This enables us to provide swifter payments to help stem any cash flow pressures and give earlier certainty about entitlement to compensation assisting farmers and producers with the impacts of bird flu.
All poultry and captive birds must be housed in England until further notice. Bird keepers are required to shut their birds indoors and implement strict biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from the threat of avian influenza, regardless of whatever type or size. Introducing these steps on farm is the most effective way in reducing the risk of disease spreading. The disease could kill your birds if these actions aren’t taken.
These measures will remain in place until further notice and will be kept under regular review as part of the government’s work to monitor and manage the risks of avian influenza.
Public health advice is that viruses currently circulating in birds in the UK do not spread easily to people and food standards bodies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. Do not touch or pick up any dead or sick birds that you find and instead report them using the online reporting system or Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.