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Proposed new label for eggs, as bird flu threatens to scupper 'free range' status

Independent.ie logo Independent.ie 17/02/2017 Ciaran Moran

Ireland's free range status for eggs will cease on March 17. © Provided by Irish Independent Ireland's free range status for eggs will cease on March 17. A new label is being proposed to deal with issues surrounding the use of the‘free range’ label, which poultry farmers will be no longer be able to use within weeks.

FarmIreland.ie can reveal that a new over-lay label explaining why ‘free range’ birds have been housed is being considered as a means to keep the use of the 'free-range' label which the poultry industry says is vital.

As a result of an increased risk of avian influenza affecting commercial poultry flocks in Ireland, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine introduced regulations requiring flock keepers to confine their poultry in a secure building, which wild birds or other animals do not have access to.

These regulations have a particular impact on free range poultry flocks, as EU regulations lay down detailed rules regarding marketing standards for eggs and poultry meat. These regulations set down minimum requirements that must be met to use the term 'free range'.

Under these regulations, to protect public and animal health, eggs and poultry meat can marketed as 'free range' for the duration of the restriction but not for more than 12 weeks.

In Ireland's case, the 12-week period expires on March 17.

Key industry stakeholders met with the Department of Agriculture this week to discuss practical solutions to the labelling free range poultry after 17 March should the restriction remain.

According to the Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture, Andrew Doyle industry representatives are considering the proposals.

Among the proposals he said  is an over-lay label that explains the context of the birds confinement.

“In reality, if poultry has to stay inside, the produce will be deemed to be barn produced meat or eggs.

“An over-lay for free range stock temporarily confined could explain the position to the consumer.

“That option is being looked at,” he said.

Free range egg production represents approximately 40pc of total egg production in Ireland, while free range meat production represents approximately 5pc of total poultry meat production.

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