New labelling system being considered to protect ‘free range’ status of eggs

A new labelling system is being considered to protect the ‘free range’ status of eggs, according to Minister of State Andrew Doyle.

Minister Doyle, who has responsibilities for Food, Forestry and Horticulture, has said that a new over-lay label is being considered to protect the ‘free range’ status of eggs which is under threat due to the spread of bird flu.

He was responding to questions from Fianna Fail Senator Paul Daly in the Seanad recently.

Due to the spread of bird flu, poultry producers have been forced to keep their flocks housed indoors in recent weeks.

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

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

During a meeting with key stakeholders in the poultry sector, the possible solution of a new labelling system was discussed, Minister Doyle said.

One option is an over-lay label that explains the context. In reality, if poultry has to stay inside, the produce will be deemed to be barn produced meat or eggs.

“An over-lay for free range stock temporarily confined could explain the position to the consumer. That option is being looked at.

“There have been a number of suggestions and these have been left for consideration and comment from all sectors, so it is an ongoing consultation,” he said.

Free range egg production represents approximately 40% of total egg production in Ireland, while free range meat production represents approximately 5% of total poultry meat production, he added.

We are not going to have competitors from outside the country coming in and taking the market, because they have had to confront this problem before us.

“That is the reason they have already been to the Commission, because their 12 weeks is due to expire or maybe has expired in some cases.

“As I said, it is affecting other countries in Europe worse than it is affecting us,” he said.

The issue of what to do after the 12 week period expires was raised at an EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council in January, Minister Doyle said.

Since the meeting in January, the Commission confirmed its intention not to table a proposal to extend the 12 week period during which the eggs or meat from birds subject to a confinement order can continue to be marketed as ‘free range’, he added.