Free-range eggs return to stores as bird flu restrictions ease

A severe avian flu outbreak means birds across the UK must be kept indoors through the winter under Covid-style confinement

Free-range British eggs have been off the menu for more than a month (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

The UK is also battling what the government has described as the UK’s “biggest ever” bird flu pandemic since last autumn.

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Hundreds of millions of chickens, turkeys and ducks will also have to be kept indoors for several months from November 2021.

But the light seems to be at the end of the tunnel, as the government has lifted some restrictions.

Free-range chickens cannot be marketed as ‘free-range chickens’ if they have been kept indoors for more than 16 consecutive weeks (Image: Getty Images)

So why is bird flu such a problem – and when can we expect free-range eggs to reappear?

Here’s everything you need to know.

Why is bird flu a problem?

Every winter, the UK is at risk of avian flu outbreaks because the UK and Ireland are close to an important migration route for wild birds from Scandinavia and Northern Russia that often carry the disease.

Occasionally, outbreaks of avian flu that develop among these birds and are brought to the UK are highly pathogenic – meaning it is more likely to kill its host.

When this happens, UK veterinary chiefs often put in place measures – such as avian flu protection zones – to reduce the risk of avian flu entering commercial eggs and poultry (food source). major products in the UK).

Wild birds often carry and spread bird flu across the UK (Image: Getty Images)

However, tougher measures such as housing restrictions (essentially confining birds that make it illegal for bird owners or farmers to let birds leave their enclosures) must be in place when the virus is found to be active. widely spread.

Such measures had to be in place by the end of November 2021 as the UK sought to tackle what the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has recorded as a “major” bird flu outbreak most ever” in the filing.

Why are there no free eggs in supermarkets?

Restrictions on aviaries are bad news for all bird owners because they require flocks to be kept in cages for long periods of time – a measure that is detrimental to the health and well-being of birds.

But it’s especially bad for free-range eggkeepers, who have to release their birds outdoors for their eggs to be classified as ‘free-range’.

Due to avian influenza restrictions for more than 16 consecutive weeks, free-range producers can no longer legally label their eggs as ‘free-range’.

So, from March 21, they must be labeled as ‘egg in a cage’ – a lower animal welfare classification.

Retailers have announced this change to consumers.

When will free-range eggs return to the supermarket?

New cases of bird flu are still being recorded but appear to be less frequent.

According to DEFRA, wild migratory birds that brought the virus to the UK left the country in March and April – reducing “infection pressure”.

Meanwhile, greater amounts of sunshine and temperatures in the UK as spring begins have kept the virus dormant, the government said.

Free-range eggs are an important food source in the UK (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

On April 25, DEFRA announced that housing restrictions would be lifted on May 2.

That means birds can now be free and products from them will be able to be labeled as free again.

Avian Influenza Zones across the UK will remain in place, while containment zones around infection sites will force birds in the area to stay indoors.

All four of the UK’s main veterinarians urged birders to continue to adhere to “careful biosecurity” measures.

Free-range chicken and eggs will return to supermarket shelves in May (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

Why can there still be a shortage of free eggs?

While welcoming the news, the British Freelance Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) said the industry was still at a “breaking point” due to rising production costs.

BFREPA chief executive Robert Gooch said: “While it has been a relief to my members, lifting the home purchase order does not solve the crisis facing the egg industry. .

“The picture is bleak – a recent survey of our members found that 51% of free-range ranchers and organic egg farmers are considering leaving the industry.

“Even a small amount of egg production will lead to an egg shortage that we predict will arrive later this year.”

BFREPA said it was not helped by the supermarkets and revealed it had asked them to raise the price of free-range eggs by at least 40p/dozen, or 80p if they were organic, to reduce energy, food and beverage costs. food and transport increased.

However, the British Retail Consortium, which represents most of the UK’s major retailers, said: “Supermarkets source most of their food from the UK and they know they need to pay a premium. sustainable prices for farmers but constrained by additional costs they can pass on to consumers. This is a very tough market. ” Free-range eggs return to stores as bird flu restrictions ease


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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