Opinion

Free range egg producers have been treated despicably

It’s ridiculous that free range egg producers must re-label their cartons in the wake of the Avian Influenza outbreak.

As I understand it, the mandatory change – directed by the EU Commission in Brussels – kicks in this Friday. It’s not producers’ fault that the disease came knocking on our door; so why should they have to pay the price for it?

I have absolutely no issue with the requirement for farmers to keep their hens indoors while the current emergency exists. But these are farmers who have made a substantial investment in their businesses over recent years. As a consequence, they are all officially registered as free range flock-owners.

Despite the Avian Influenza induced-changes to flock husbandry procedures, they still tick every box in the book – in my opinion – from a free range point of view. So why the need for a labelling change?

This is another example of EU bureaucracy being taken to the ‘nth’ degree for no good reason. Erroneous labelling changes serve no good purpose. In the first instance, they confuse consumers. And, perhaps more importantly, they give food retailers an opportunity to pull back producer prices.

Surely it is the ‘spirit’ of the regulations that should come into play in current circumstances.

One assumes that a free range hen today retains her status, once the EU-mandated labelling changes are reversed in a few weeks’ time. I heard Co. Cavan free range producer Thomas Fitzsimons interviewed on last Saturday morning’s Countrywide programme. He said that producers, such as him, would have to accept the labelling changes for the wider poultry industry.

This is all very laudable. But it should not be the case. Thomas and his other free range counterparts have done nothing wrong. So why should they have to carry the burden of the Avian Influenza within their own businesses, never mind the poultry sector as a whole.

There is, of course, a very simple solution to all of this. All Phil Hogan has to do is rescind the edict, requiring free range egg producers to re-label their cartons. Let’s be clear about this; the eggs produced on these premises are just as edible and nutritious as they would have been, had the spectre of Avian Influenza not reared its head.

And what happens if consumption of the newly-labelled eggs starts to fall below levels that would normally have been achieved when they were branded free range. Will the EU Commission compensate producers under such circumstances?

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