Free-range poultry producers face serious threats to their businesses, as Defra announce plans to introduce higher risk areas.

The Avian Influenza (AI) prevention zone is due to expire on February 28.

This new measure means that producers who continue to house their birds will no longer be able to label their products as free-range.

This is because the birds have been housed indoors for longer than the 12 weeks permitted by EU law.

Meurig Raymond, National Farmers Union president, said: "Free-range poultry producers now face significant threats to their businesses after Defra's introduction of Higher Risk Areas.

"The affected producers will now lose free-range status from March 1 and this will have a considerable effect on the supply chain.

"Half of the UK's national flock is free-range, by far the highest percentage of any EU member state, and this will have a serious effect on the British public where demand for free-range has increased significantly over the past 25 years.

"The NFU will continue to work with industry to help poultry producers prepare for the introduction of higher risk areas and how this will affect their businesses.

"Defra need to provide clarity specifically on how many free-range birds are affected by the introduction of Higher Risk Areas.

"The NFU has concerns over the complexity that this system brings to the supply chain but the lifting of the housing order will be welcome news to producers outside higher risk areas.

"Producers should assess the risk of AI on their farms appropriately before allowing their birds into the range area.

"We will be working with all free-range producers to ensure that they are as prepared as possible when new changes come into place."