UK farming unions have called on European officials to extend the 12-week free range status of poultry affected by the housing order to give certainty the produce will still have a market.
If the compulsory housing order is extended beyond February 28, eggs and poultry meat under the free range label will no longer be allowed to be sold as ‘free range’ but will be forced under the label of ‘barn reared’.
The unions have called for a temporary deregation on the indoor housing rule to prevent the ‘impending loss’ of free range eggs from British supermarkets.
Stuart Agnew, MEP and poultry farmer, said the label change would be ‘downright unfair’ on the country’s dedicated free range chicken farmers.
He said: “Whilst the technical standards are absolutely essential to allow consumers to have confidence in free range eggs and chicken meat, I think British consumers are more than capable of understanding that a temporary housing order for these animals own protection is an exceptional situation.
"Unlike barn reared birds, free range birds will be allowed outdoors again as soon as the danger has passed. That is a fundamental difference."
The UK Farming Union presidents added: “The UK market will, without doubt, be one of the most affected countries as a result of bird flu, due to half of our national flock being free-range, by far the highest percentage of any member state.
“If these steps aren’t taken to protect the industry, producers are facing the very real prospect that they could go out of business and the UK market will be unable to enjoy the free-range products they demand."