November 24, 2017
EU-produced eggs from free-range hens confined for up to 16 weeks can now be marketed as "eggs of chickens kept in the open air," as the European Commission extended the derogation period from 12 weeks.
The change in rules, which comes into effect Saturday, Nov. 25, was made in consideration of any event that would restrict access to outdoor areas for veterinary reasons, such as bird-flu outbreak.
The decision also came as many producers had lost the "outdoor" label for their eggs following the shorter period of confinement required.
According to the EC, the extension should help to minimise the financial losses suffered by breeders in the event of a disease outbreak while maintaining guarantees for consumers in view of the limited nature of the derogation.
Other production requirements for the "free-range hen eggs" label remain in effect, including the density criteria for hens in the field and pens. At present, there are over 390 million hens in the EU, of which 54 million (14%) are raised outdoors.
The largest outdoor farms are in the UK, Germany, France, Ireland and the Netherlands. It is these countries, along with Belgium, that have had to cope with the most severe veterinary restrictions during the avian influenza epidemic of 2016-2017.
Free range eggs are particularly important in the UK (53% of hens are kept outdoors), Ireland (40%), Austria (21%), France (18%), Germany (18%) and the Netherlands (15%).
The UK keeps the biggest share of the EU's population of free range hens (41%), followed by Germany (17%), France (16%) and the Netherlands (10%).-Rick Alberto