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How is Avian Flu affecting the status of free range eggs in the foodservice environment?

Since December 2016 poultry owners in the UK have been advised to keep their birds indoors due to Avian Flu. The governments in England, Scotland and Wales issued this advice to protect the disease from spreading between birds. Although Avian Flu is not harmful to humans, bird flu is highly contagious amongst poultry and can wipe out entire flocks.

Birds that are usually free range are now being kept indoors for their protection. Under European Union rules, if birds have been housed for more than 12 weeks they cannot be marketed as free range.

For foodservice operators, this now means that the free range eggs and free range chicken used in their dishes may be from birds that are temporarily being reared indoors, and technically no longer meeting the standards to be free range.

The British Sandwich Association has issued this information for the industry:

In a further update to the Avian Flu position, we have issued this Primary Authority Advice.

We now understand that some restrictions will be lifted by DEFRA after the 28th February 2017. These restrictions will only be lifted in areas that are not deemed to be high risk and only if bio security measures are in place.

However, this will not apply to all of Wales. Scotland will have restrictions in place but birds in zones that are not high risk may be allowed outside only if bio-security measures are in place.

As these restrictions will only apply to certain areas so where members source their eggs is of upmost importance as the areas that will have the regulations uplifted will have to have in place strict bio security measures. Therefore traceability is vital. It will then be up to the businesses to make sure that any eggs described as free range are from such a farm that have these measures in place.

If businesses are able to produce traceability to the effect that the eggs sourced are from areas where the restrictions have been lifted and they have the appropriate bio security measures in place then they are able to use the terms Free Range eggs / Free Range poultry.

However, if they provide eggs /poultry that have not been sourced from areas where the ban has been lifted or they are unable to ascertain where the eggs have been sourced, they must at least carry out some measures of correction. Examples:

Sandwiches

Egg sandwichSandwiches that have the “Free Range Egg” in the name of the food must be over-stickered to state “Barn Egg” in the name of the food as soon as possible to avoid misleading consumers.

Ingredients

If the “Free Range Egg” is used in the list of ingredients it will need to be replaced by either a new label or by an over- sticker with the list of ingredients stating only “egg” in the ingredients list. As this may take every business some time to arrange and process we would expect DEFRA to give a lead in time for the ingredient list to be amended.

Eggs PrepackedScrambled eggs

The Term “Free Range” must be over-stickered with “Barn Eggs”

Catering Establishments

Should remove the Free Range Egg / Free Range Poultry from their menus or in some circumstances it may be enough to put up a “Notice to Consumers” that is bold enough to be seen and understood before they order any meal

This will inform the consumers that due to the Avian Flu restrictions all Free range Eggs are now Barn Eggs as the hens were kept in Barns to avoid an epidemic of the Avian Influenza. Therefore this also applies to previously named Free Range Chicken which is now regarded as Chicken

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