doc

Avian Influenza has been described as a 'postcode lottery' following the introduction of high risk zones - which threatens to put free range businesses at risk.

After the outbreak of Avian Influenza a housing order was put in place, meaning that all birds had to be kept inside and protected from wild birds until February 28, but the free range status of eggs was protected.

Now, however, the protection is due to end alongside the housing order, but keepers in designated Higher Risk Areas (HRAs) are still required to house the birds - and could lose their free range status.

The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) is now calling on Defra to allow all free range hens in England to be allowed outside at the end of February, before producers go out of business.

The HRAs mean that birds must continue to be housed after February 28, but there will be no compulsory housing for producers in Wales, and all flocks on Scottish farms will also be allowed outside.

The BFREPA believe that this division is unfair on British keepers, and they estimate that 150 of their members will be caught in HRAs and forced to downgrade their eggs at a cost of about 20p per dozen, across roughly two million eggs per day.

Robert Gooch, BFREPA chief executive, said: "This inconsistent approach is proving divisive among producers in the UK and will spell the end for some of our members in England who will lose their free range status.

“There is a lack of common sense in an approach that allows birds on one side of the Severn Estuary to range, while across the border in England birds continue to be housed. It has created a postcode lottery.

“An outbreak at a broiler farm in Suffolk this week was outside of the proposed HRA, demonstrating that there is little science available to accurately pinpoint where HRAs should be.

“The enhanced biosecurity measures proposed for the majority of English free range flocks outside of HRAs should apply all over the country, as has happened in Wales and Scotland.

“We are calling on Defra to review its position and change the policy before we see our producers go out of business.”