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NFU meet EU commission for clarification on Housing Order

The EU Commission has responded to the NFU’s request for clarification over the implementation of the avian influenza Housing Order and its effect on free-range eggs and poultry meat.

It follows an NFU delegation to Brussels in February where members talked to Commission officials about how the loss of free-range status would impact poultry businesses. On the back of the meeting, the NFU’s Chief Poultry Advisor Gary Ford also wrote to the Commission asking for clearer guidance on various aspects of the Order.

From left to right: Veli Moluluo, Daniel Fairburn, David Brass, Gary Ford (Chief Poultry Advisor NFU) and Mark Gorton. Photo: Tony McDougal
From left to right: Veli Moluluo, Daniel Fairburn, David Brass, Gary Ford (Chief Poultry Advisor NFU) and Mark Gorton. Photo: Tony McDougal

Rudolf Moegele, director general for Agriculture and Rural Development at the European Commission, made a range of points in response to the letter and delegation:

  • The 12 week derogation period applies from when the CVO makes the Housing Order announcement (for the UK this was 6 December)
  • The 12 week derogation period does not apply on an individual flock basis
  • Eggs laid by hens that continue to be housed beyond the 12 week derogation period (ie 28 February ) must be labelled as barn eggs
  • As soon as veterinary restrictions imposing the Housing Order are lifted and birds have access to range the eggs can be labelled as ‘free-range’
  • In the event that a Housing Order is re-imposed, a new 12 week derogation period will apply – the eggs can continue to be labelled as ‘free-range’
  • There is no minimum or maximum timeframe permitted between these 2 periods
  • A lifting of the Housing Order for a day to trigger a new 12 weeks period could be considered a breach of the 12 week rule

Abuse of the confinement order - not permitted

Mr Moegele warned: “The Commission services consider that lifting a confinement order for the sole purpose of giving ‘free-range’ egg producers the possibility to benefit from an additional 12 week derogation (for eggs to be continued to be marketed as ‘free-range’) could be considered a circumvention of the 12 week rule that should not be allowed.

“Lifting confinement orders shall be done by Member States on a basis of their specific epidemiological situation regarding highly pathogenic avian influenza.”

Meeting with NFU members proved worthwhile

Mr Ford said he believed the visit by 4 poultry members, including 3 farmers, had been worthwhile as it had enabled European officials to hear first hand how the Housing Order will affect farmers.

“Taking a group of affected farmers to the heart of the European Union was a very positive way of getting this key message to an influential group of decision-makers,” he added.

Mark Gorton, Traditional Norfolk Poultry owner, said: “I thought the visit was really enlightening and worthwhile. They don’t get to meet many farmers very often so it was interesting to put our case forward and how it will affect us as farmers.

“For me, as a free-range poultry meat producer, it is important that everyone continues to support us. If we can’t sell our chickens as free-range and we had to take a drop in price it would impact our business hard,” he added.

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