As the compulsory housing order comes to an end, 25 per cent of English producers are left unable to sell eggs labelled as free-range.
Whilst most keepers are now able to let their birds outside provided they ‘take specific precautions against avian flu’, those caught in the Higher Risk Area (HRA) – around 17 per cent of free range producers – will have to continue to house their birds and will temporarily lose free-range status.
Wednesday (February 29) will see the start of some suppliers labelling free-range egg cartons with a sticker to inform the consumer about the temporary restrictions.
It will read: “Eggs laid by hens temporarily housed in barns for their welfare.”
@Chrisitv Not free range then. Aspirational free range eggs. Fake free range.— Christine (@northernlass73)
@Chrisitv i challenged this the other day.... not exactly free range are they?...— Ian Walker (@ianwalker1991)
But some consumers have been quick to comment with many suggesting such eggs would no longer be free-range.
Defra advice suggested eggs from birds which have been kept continuously housed will meet the criteria to be sold as ‘barn eggs’ as of March 1 - eggs which do not come from caged birds.
Marks and Spencer has become the first retailer to pledge it support to assure those who will be downgraded to barn eggs will still receive the free-range price.
Introduction of HRAs caused a backlash among free-range farmers but UK chief vet Nigel Gibbens defended the Government's decision.
He said: “We think we have made a sensible risk based judgement to allow free range to resume, while dealing with the higher risk areas.
“We know and we sympathise with those of you who are caught in the 25 per cent of keepers - about 17 per cent of free range producers - who will be required still to house or otherwise net.
“But we think you are really at high risk.”
These measures are expected to remain in place until April 30.
A Defra spokesman said: “It is a business decision for producers as to whether to bear the cost of netting in order to continue to market as free range.”