‘Egg producers deserve State support as they lose free range status’

Egg producers who are set to lose their ‘free range’ status deserve State support, according to Irish MEP Marian Harkin.

An alternative labelling system for ‘free range’ eggs is set to be rolled out, as the birds which produce these eggs have been under a compulsory housing order due to the risk of bird flu outbreaks.

Under EU regulations, eggs and poultry meat may continue to be marketed as ‘free range’ for up to 12 weeks from when the compulsory housing order is brought into effect.

In Ireland’s case, the 12-week period is set to expire tomorrow, on March 17.

This new labelling system is set to explain to customers that ‘free range’ eggs that they would normally buy were laid by hens that were being housed for their own welfare.

‘Free range’ egg producers who may face substantial financial losses, due to restrictions placed on them in relation to bird flu, must be compensated by the State, Harkin said.

The independent MEP referred to the precedent set some years ago when poultry producers were compensated for economic losses, which arose from a previous outbreak of the disease. 

It is feared that the continuation of the compulsory housing order in the Republic of Ireland could lead to ‘free range’ egg producers losing the premium associated with these eggs.

“Free-range egg production is an important niche activity in our agriculture sector and the producers involved deserve the support of the State, at a time when they are required to accept a measure which is very damaging to the premium price their product commands in the marketplace,” Harkin said.

Cost of an Alternative Labelling System

As of yet it is unclear who is going to cover the additional cost of this alternative labelling system for ‘free range’ eggs, the IFA Poultry Chairman, Nigel Renaghan, said.

But Renaghan believes it is crucial that both the retail sector and the processing industry, as well as customers, support ‘free range’ poultry farmers during this difficult time.

The retail sector must support ‘free range’ producers and give a firm commitment that no reduction in price will be sought, for poultry products from ‘free range’ poultry farms, he said.