Defra has come under fire for its decision to introduce a ‘postcode lottery’ bird flu restriction system which is likely to rid some English poultry producers of free-range status and render some businesses untenable.
The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) called for the removal of Government-induced Higher Risk Areas throughout England after a devolved approach across the UK left Scotland and Wales with no such restrictions, despite sharing borders.
All UK poultry keepers will be required to carry out a self-assessment of enhanced biosecurity measures and continue to separate flocks from wild birds until April 30, but only those in HRAs will be ordered to continue housing their birds.
Robert Gooch, BFREPA chief executive, said the authorities had ‘serious inconsistencies’ in how they dealt with the issue which could ‘spell the end’ for some producers.
“There is a lack of common sense in an approach which allows birds on one side of the Severn Estuary to range, while across the border in England birds continue to be housed,” he said.
“The enhanced biosecurity measures proposed for most English free-range flocks outside of high risk areas (HRAs) should apply all over the country.”
The recent outbreak at a broiler farm near Redgrave, mid-Suffolk, which was not in an HRA, was ‘proof there was little science available’ to accurately pinpoint where HRAs should be, Mr Gooch said.
Free-range egg producer Peter Brown runs his flock of 44,000 birds only 700 metres from a farm which is classified as being in an HRA near Bury St Edmunds.
He said either the whole country should be made to keep birds housed or ‘none at all’.
“The outbreak in Suffolk was only 23 miles from us and proves birds do not respect circles on maps,” he said.
“If we choose to keep our birds housed outside of an HRA we are certain to lose free-range status, with some retailers cutting prices to equal barn-reared which would mean a 30p loss per dozen.”
In response to a BFREPA call on Defra to ‘review its position and change the policy’, a spokesman said: “Effective disease control will always be our priority.
“We believe mandatory biosecurity across England, combined with targeted housing or range netting in HRAs, is the best option to control disease, protect birds' welfare and ensure consumers can buy free-range products.”
To find out if your farm is affected by a Higher Risk Area, click here.