The UK government has announced a new proposal to change its existing egg labelling regulations to better support farmers during avian influenza (bird flu) outbreaks in the country.   

Current legislation requires a change in labelling from ‘free-range’ to ‘barn eggs’ after 16 weeks of mandatory housing, a period known as ‘derogation’. 

The new proposals aim to eliminate this requirement, allowing eggs to retain their free-range status throughout mandatory housing measures. 

An eight-week consultation has been launched on amending the Egg Marketing Standards Regulations as part of this.

The consultation, which began yesterday (9 January 2024), seeks input on the proposed regulatory amendments and will remain open until 5 March.

The changes are set to apply to England and Scotland within the UK.

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British Egg Industry Council CEO Gary Ford said: “With the vast majority of eggs produced in the UK meeting free-range standards, the sector is very important to both British consumers and farmers.

“The changes are essential to ensure a long-term future for British free-range eggs, which we know consumers want, and we strongly support the consultation.” 

The latest move is further intended to reduce red tape and labelling costs for British egg producers, strengthen supply chains, and support the government’s goal to maintain at least 60% self-sufficiency in food production. 

According to the government, the threat of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 has escalated globally, with more than 360 cases confirmed in the UK since late October 2021.  

The past two years have seen the 16-week derogation period exceeded, leading to significant costs for the industry due to mandatory packaging changes. 

UK Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “We understand the pressures bird flu outbreaks place on our poultry and egg producers, which is why we continue to prioritise ways to support the industry during outbreaks of this disease.  

“I encourage all those with an interest to take part in this consultation to ensure that our free-range industry continues to thrive in years to come.”