Free range poultry will soon be back in business following a Government-imposed housing order to limit the spread of avian flu.
All mandatory housing restrictions for H5N8 bird flu infected birds in Higher Risk Areas will be lifted later this week (April 13) meaning all birds in England are now allowed outside.
It came after the estimated 17 per cent of free range producers affected by the restrictions temporarily lost their status from February 29.
Defra chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens backed the decision but urged poultry keepers to remain vigilant.
He said: “Based on the latest evidence on reduced numbers of migratory and resident aquatic birds we believe that birds kept in the areas we previously designated as Higher Risk are now at the same level of risk as the rest of England and may now be let outside.
“However, all keepers must still observe strict disease prevention measures to reduce the risk of contamination from the environment, where the virus can survive for several weeks in bird droppings.”
The announcement comes only days after Defra urged producers in HRAs to monitor the indoor temperature of bird houses due to concern over heat stress.
Until birds can be allowed outside, producers have been offered potential derogation of the rule under force majeure if there are no practical alternatives.
HRAs had previously come under attack from the industry with the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) slamming what it called ‘inconsistencies’ which it said could force producers out of business.
While many retailers stuck by the free range price, others faced a 30p loss per dozen.
But NFU poultry adviser Aimee Mahony said the overall impact on producers had been relatively small.
“At the moment people are very grateful because retailers have stood by the free range pricing even though many producers are now technically producing barn eggs,” Ms Mahony said.
“Obviously there may be other effects on the business but on the whole the wider impact has been very small when compared to what it could have been.”
Mr Gibbens warned measures continued to be under review and all poultry keepers must continue to take steps to reduce the risk to their birds.