Free range broiler producers will now benefit from free-range status being applied on a flock-by-flock basis when birds are forced to be kept inside by a veterinary housing order.
Defra has confirmed changes to the derogation, which allows poultry meat to be marketed as free-range in the event of an Avian Influenza outbreak for a period of 12 weeks.
This provides certainty to poultry meat producers that they will not have to sell their birds into the standard indoor reared market, which would have resulted in financial losses.
The move follows extensive efforts by the NFU and other farming and poultry organisations, which included a delegation of producers going to Brussels to meet with key decision makers.
The lobbying began in February 2017 when Defra imposed a housing order for all free-range poultry during the bird flu outbreak. As a result of the housing order, it became clear that the derogation that allows housed poultry to be marketed as free-range should be applied on a flock by flock basis.
Much needed certainty
Gary Ford, NFU chief poultry adviser, said the confirmation provided much-needed certainty for free range poultry meat members.
“Our members were at the heart of this effort and it shows the benefits of farmers working alongside NFU staff in the UK and Brussels.
“Approximately 650,000 free-range broilers are reared every week in England and Wales so this is a decision that will affect farmers across the country. The financial benefit of this decision for affected members cannot be underestimated.”
Maire Burnett, British Poultry Council technical manager, welcomed the move, saying the BPC had lobbied hard alongside farming unions.
Ms Burnett said the European Commission had not wanted to reopen the EU Poultry Meat Marketing regulations, which were not due for review for some time and had decided to give member states the opportunity to apply the derogation.
“They sent out a note to CVOs saying member states could apply the derogation on a flock by flock basis and I am delighted that Defra have taken this up.
“I haven’t heard whether other member states will take up this derogation but the free-range market is much smaller across other European countries,” she added.