THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION has said that eggs cannot be marketed as free-range if solar panels are present in the open space they have access to.

Dutch MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen asked the EU for clarification over the rule in late December last year.

He said solar panels could help reduce the risk of avian influenza contracted from wild birds and provide shelter from birds of prey and bad weather.

Mr Ruissen added that installations would also contribute to a farm’s sustainability objectives.

Dutch egg certification authorities do not allow the installation of solar panels on poultry ranges, though other EU states do.

“Solar panels at an appropriate height and distance do not constitute a barrier either to vegetation on the land or to access for laying hens, which is what marketing standards (and the provision concerning other purposes) are concerned with,” Mr Ruissen said.

But the Commission rejected his argument, saying that only orchards, woodland and livestock grazing where appropriate was allowed.

“There is however no ban as such to put up solar panels in the outdoor space for laying hens or to consider such panels as shelter from inclement weather and predators, as long as the installation complies with all the relevant requirements of EU-rules on animal welfare for laying hens.

“Eggs from these systems could however not be marketed as ‘Free-range eggs’ but must be sold as ‘Barn eggs’,” the Commission said.