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Saturday 24 February 2018

With poultry housed due to 'bird flu' what does this mean for food branded 'Free Range'

Poultry flock owners should remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their flocks Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Poultry flock owners should remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their flocks Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

The status of the 'Free Range' label has been queried as all of Ireland’s poultry farmers have been ordered to house there birds to prevent the spread of Avian flu.

The detailed rules regarding marketing standards for eggs and poultrymeat, including the definition of free-range, are set at EU level. 

The Regulations provide for situations where veterinary restrictions are imposed, as is the case currently in Ireland, whereby eggs and poultrymeat may continue to be marketed as “Free Range” for the duration of the restriction but not for more than 12 weeks.

There are a number of Member States who currently have housing restrictions in place which could affect the eligibility for free-range and therefore the issue of what to do after the 12 week period expires is one of interest to many Member States.

In Ireland’s case the 12 week period will expire on the 17th of March.

Normally, to qualify for free range the birds must have had during at least half their lifetime continuous daytime access to open-air runs comprising an area mainly covered by vegetation over various sizes.

The issue is much more immediate in Central Europe where authorities have been battling with the disease since early November.

The issue was discussed at the EU Agriculture Council meeting on Monday.

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At the meeting Ireland has informed the Commission that it very much favours a practical solution in the current ‘exceptional circumstances’ and said it committed to working on this issue in consultation with industry, other EU Member States and the EU Commission.

The Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed has said that avian influenza is now likely well established in wild bird populations across the country and has urged flock owners to remain vigilant and keep their poultry housed.

In December, the Department of Agriculture announced regulations requiring flock keepers to confine all poultry and captive birds in their possession or under their control in a secure building to which wild birds, or other animals do not have access, and to apply specific bio-security measures.

This followed the confirmation of H5N8 in a wild bird in Wales, and is the first time such action has been taken by this Department.

The Department of Agriculture confirmed the fourth case of avian influenza H5N8 in a whooper swan in Leitrim.

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