POULTRY farmers could be saved from the costly need to reclassify eggs from housed free-range hens as barn if changes to legislation are introduced in England and Scotland.

Defra has proposed that a derogation that allows eggs to continue to be marketed as free-range only for the first 16 weeks of a housing order be removed.

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That would mean producers could continue to market eggs as free-range for as long as a government-imposed housing order remained in place.

It would bring England and Scotland in line with Europe, which changed its marketing regulations in the Autumn of 2023.

However the Welsh government said it had no plans to consult over the change, with a spokesperson saying: “We are not planning on consulting on this change because the current policy strikes a balance between providing industry with flexibility but also providing a safeguard for consumers not facing the prospect of not knowing what they are actually buying for an open-ended period of time.”

In previous years, various solutions, including stamping eggs in pack houses instead of on-farm, overstickering egg cartons and point-of-sale notices, have been used following the 16-week derogation period.

The egg sector has long argued that these are costly measures, particularly given staffing challenges both on farms and in the wider supply chain.

Consultation

An eight-week consultation has now been launched, and farmers are encouraged to make their views about the changes known (see link below).

Defra said the change would support domestic food security and cut red tape for producers.

Farming minister Mark Spencer said: “We understand the pressures bird flu outbreaks place on our poultry and egg producers, which is why we continue to prioritise ways to support the industry during outbreaks of this disease.

Thrive

“I encourage all those with an interest to take part in this consultation to ensure that our free-range industry continues to thrive in years to come.”

Chief Executive of the British Egg Industry Council, Gary Ford, described the changes as “essential to ensure a long-term future for British free-range eggs”.

“With the vast majority of eggs produced in the UK meeting free-range standards, the sector is very important to both British consumers and farmers.

Remaining competitive

“BEIC has been calling for an amendment to the egg marketing legislation to ensure that our free-range egg farmers can remain competitive and continue to provide British consumers with free-range eggs.”

To complete the consultation, visit:

https://consult.defra.gov.uk/ahdb-relationship-team/consultation-on-removing-the-16-week-derogation-pe/