WELSH poultry farmers have expressed frustration that the devolved government has seemingly decided against changing rules surrounding free-range housing orders that England and Scotland wish to adopt.

There are fears that if the Welsh government retains the current 16-week derogation for free-range eggs during a housing order, producers in the country will be placed at a disadvantage.

See also: Welsh poultry farmer wins award for ‘grassroots commitment to NFU’

In January, England and Scotland launched a consultation over the regulations, which currently allow eggs from housed free-range hens to be sold as free range for the first 16 weeks of a housing order. After this, they are downgraded to barn.

The preferred option from both countries is to remove the 16-week limit, meaning eggs could continue to be marketed as free-range for as long as the housing order remains in place.

This would align with new rules in Europe and avoid the need for costly adaptations to the supply chain.

Disappointment

But Wales said it did not intend to change the current rules, citing, at the time, consumer confidence in the sector.

At NFU Cymru’s poultry conference this week, producers expressed disappointment at the decision, with one saying: “The commercial impact on the poultry sector in Wales is going to be colossal if you are going to go in a different direction to the rest of the UK – this needs to be carefully considered – we cannot have our producers in Wales at a competitive disadvantage to those in the rest of the UK or indeed the rest of Europe.”

Both the British Egg Industry Council and British Free Range Egg Producers’ Association have been lobbying the Welsh government over the decision.

Complete consultation

Bfrepa has urged Welsh producers to complete the Defra consultation despite it not having Welsh government backing, as it will be fed back to the devolved administration.

“It is absolutely vital that Welsh members respond to explain what the impact will be if the Welsh Government does not align its rules with England and Scotland,” a spokesperson said.

And Gary Ford, chief executive of the BEIC added: “It is critically important for both consumers and industry that the Welsh government bring forward a consultation on removing the 16-week derogation period in the egg marketing standards at some point in the coming months and certainly ahead of the AI season later this year.

‘Devastating impact’

“My concern is that a lack of consultation will actually have the opposite effect on consumers to what the Welsh government are trying to achieve.

“It certainly has the potential to have a devastating impact on Welsh free-range egg producers at a time when Welsh farming is under enormous pressure.”

Both made reference to a survey carried out last year that found 89% of Welsh consumers agreed that hens should be kept inside in the event of an AI outbreak and that 62% of Welsh consumers confirmed that it was acceptable for eggs from hens kept inside to continue to be called free range until it is safe for hens to go outside again.

Defra’s consultation, which closes on 5 March, can be found here.