East Anglian egg farmer’s fears about ‘free range’ status following bird flu order
- Credit: Archant
An East Anglian free range egg producer fears his business would face 'devastation' if it loses its status due to a bird flu ban.
Free range poultry producers have been ordered to keep their birds indoors following an outbreak of H5N8 which has hit Europe.
The UK government's chief vet declared a 'prevention zone' in England on December 6, and ordered poultry producers to keep their birds inside, or separate them from wild birds.
Free range producers can continue to market as free range produce, provided the order does not extend beyond 12 weeks, but with the order extended to February 28, that deadline is approaching.
The UK farming union presidents are set to hold urgent discussions with MEPs and European Union (EU) decision-makers, to urge them to extend the 12-week free-range status.
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Half the UK national flock is free-range, they argue, and producers face 'the very real prospect' that they could go out of business.
Alaistaire Brice, owner of Havensfield Happy Hens at Hoxne, near Eye, said the impact of losing his status would be severe for his business, which employs more than 20 people and supports a further 25 jobs on family farms.
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'The loss of the status would mean devastation to our business and the 15 contracted free range egg producers that we have supplying us with free range eggs. We currently produce, pack and wholesale 750,000 free range each week directly to 500 plus customers throughout south east England,' he said.
'I have asked our packaging manufacturer as to lead times for new packs etc and they simply say it would take 12 to 16 weeks to change status, make up new plates and ship to us. This situation is made worse by the fact that there are no UK manufacturers.
'The market is already very difficult in light of feed prices and any further reductions would make the whole business very unstable. At present the consumers are perfectly understanding of the situation.'
The disease risk was likely to remain high until the non-resident wild bird population flies back to its breeding grounds, he added.
'The loss of our free range status would mean we would have to take a serious look at our business,' he said.