UK government lifts restrictions on poultry

People can once again buy free-range eggs after measures to control a bird flu outbreak were relaxed.

From Monday hens are allowed back outside, after the government lifted restrictions imposed last November requiring them to stay indoors.

It means free-range labelling can return to shelves.

Since March, the eggs have been classified as “barn eggs” in supermarkets due to the length of time birds had been kept inside.

Free-range eggs come from hens that have unlimited outdoors access during the daytime.

The RSPCA says about 55% of all eggs produced in the UK are free-range.

The UK has been facing its largest ever outbreak of avian influenza.

While poultry and other captive birds will no longer need to be housed, unless they are in a protection zone, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said other precautions to protect flocks remain in force.

They include enhanced cleansing and biosecurity measures.

In a joint statement, the four chief veterinary officers said: “Whilst the lifting of the mandatory housing measures will be welcome news to bird keepers, scrupulous biosecurity remains the most critical form of defence to help keep your birds safe.

“It is thanks to the hard work of all bird keepers and vets, who have played their part in keeping flocks safe this winter, that we are in a position to take this action.

“However, the recent cases of avian influenza show that it’s more important than ever for bird keepers to remain vigilant for signs of disease and maintain stringent standards of biosecurity.”

Farmers welcomed the move but warned that there are still challenges.

“It’s really nice to see the hens outside,” said Llyr Jones, a poultry farmer.

“Once they’ve laid their eggs in the morning, the doors open at 9 o’clock and they can have the rest of the day roaming the fields.”

Jones, who runs the Derwydd farm in Ruthin in North Wales, said the main challenge for farmers now is rising production costs, after the Ukraine war sent prices soaring.

Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s biggest producers in agriculture and food.

Wheat, a core ingredient in chicken feed, has surged in price in recent months. (BBC)

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