As the UK-wide avian influenza housing order comes into effect today, the chief executive of the British Free-Range Producers Association (BFREPA) has urged consumers to continue to support the industry.
Robert Gooch said for many weeks, BFREPA had been warning free range egg producers that the threat from avian influenza was likely to be very high this winter, and a sharp rise in the number of cases in recent days is extremely concerning.
“We would ask for the public to continue its support for British free range eggs during this testing time.
“An outbreak of avian influenza results in the mandatory culling of birds and causes a huge amount of emotional and financial distress for farmers, their families and their staff.
“Protecting hen welfare is their main priority and farms have taken their biosecurity to the highest possible level, but it has become increasingly clear that the threat of further outbreaks is too high.
“BFREPA supports the difficult decision taken by Defra to issue a mandatory housing order. The decision will not have been taken lightly and housing birds is part of the strategy to reduce the risk of AI spreading to other flocks.
“Having to keep their birds indoors poses a challenge for our producers but it’s a challenge that our members will rise to with good bird management.
“Altering the birds’ routine or restricting access to the outside may increase the chance of them getting stressed, so many producers will provide additional enrichments such as pecking blocks, enhanced scratching areas and natural vegetation like tree cuttings – anything that stimulates the birds and encourages them to display instinctive behaviours.
“This is a situation that’s not of our members’ making but free range producers will do everything they can to recreate a free range environment for their birds.”