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Monday 23 October 2017

Why there will be no more 'free range' eggs after St Patrick’s day

Ireland's free range status for eggs will cease on March 17.
Ireland's free range status for eggs will cease on March 17.
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

The Department of Agriculture has confirmed that processors, producers and retailers in the egg and poultry sector will no longer be able to use the free range label after March 17.

The news comes after the Department introduced regulations requiring flock keepers to confine their poultry in a secure building, which wild birds or other animals do not have access to.

Ireland had 12 incidences of bird flu since December as wild birds migrated. Today's announcement means that free range eggs will no longer be available in shops as under EU regulations 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.

What’s the current bird flu situation?

In Ireland we have confirmed 12 wild birds positive for H5N8 in 10 locations (events) in 6 counties since the end of December. There have been no outbreaks in domestic poultry.

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What is bird flu?

Avian influenza (AI) is a highly contagious viral disease affecting the respiratory, digestive and/or nervous system of several species of domestic poultry, as well as pet birds and wild birds. It is caused by Type A Influenza Virus. Avian influenza is also known as “Bird Flu”.

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Can avian influenza be spread to humans through food?

A: There is no evidence that avian influenza can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of properly cooked food such as poultry meat and eggs.

What are the signs of avian influenza infection in birds?

A: The main clinical signs of HPAI in birds are:

  • Depression/lethargy
  • loss of appetite and excessive thirst
  • swollen head
  • blue discolouration of combs, wattles, neck and throat
  • respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • diarrhoea
  • reduced/no eggs laid
  • Sudden death.

Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) is usually less serious. It can cause mild breathing problems, depression and a reduction in egg production. However affected birds will not always show clear signs of infection.

How is avian influenza spread?

All avian influenza viruses can be transmitted among birds through direct contact with body fluids from infected birds such as droppings or through contaminated feed, water, equipment, and human clothing. The viruses can also be transmitted from place to place by the movement of live birds, people (especially when shoes and other clothing are contaminated), and contaminated vehicles, equipment, feed, and cages.

Can avian influenza spread through the air?

No, AI is not an airborne disease. As outlined above direct contact with affected birds or contaminated materials is required in order to spread the disease among birds.

Can avian influenza spread from affected birds to people?

Some types of avian influenza can pass to people, but this is very rare. It usually requires very close contact between the person and infected birds.

What is being done at official level?

The measures taken to date include:

  • Increased surveillance in wild birds
  • Introduction of an avian influenza helpline
  • Development of information for the website
  • Guidance leaflets published in the national and regional press
  • Regular updates to key stakeholders
  • Introduction of the Avian Influenza (Precautionary Confinement of Birds) Regulations, 2016 on 23 December - which require all poultry and captive birds to be confined in secure premises, or where this is not practical, to at least confine them so that they do not come into contact with other birds.
  • Meetings with the poultry industry
  • Regular liaison with health officials and organisations involved with wild birds
  • Targeted checks on biosecurity measures on poultry farms
  • A range of measures to ensure preparedness in the event of an outbreak


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