May 4, 2022
Organic and free-range chickens put into lockdown in the US and Europe due to bird flu
Egg producers and poultry industry representatives said egg-laying hens that normally roam freely outdoors have been kept inside during lethal bird flu outbreaks in the US and Europe, which comes as a surprise to consumers who pay extra for speciality eggs, Reuters reported.
Regulators in the US said retailers and egg firms should inform consumers that hens are being kept inside due to bird flu, especially as shoppers are affecting by soaring food inflation.
Some retailers in France are not following government measures to publish clear information about flocks being kept indoors to protect them from bird flu.
Consumers feel more comfortable purchasing livestock products if chickens were allowed to roam outside, as it is thought to be more humane.
Veterinarians said poultry that are able to roam free outdoors are more susceptible to being infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza, due to migratory birds spreading the disease through feathers or feces.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has advised farmers to keep poultry flocks indoors but it is not a requirement.
The bird flu outbreak in the US is the second-worst recorded in history, with more than 35 million birds killed in 2022. France is coping with its worst outbreak, culling over 16 million birds. The UK, Italy, and Spain have also reported bird flu outbreaks.
Marketing standards for the UK and EU allow "free-range" labels for hens that have been kept indoors for up to 16 weeks. The UK has allowed farmers to let hens roam free outdoors from May.
Mar Fernández, Spanish head of the Interprofessional Organisation of Eggs and Egg Products, said hens in special risk and surveillance areas in the country must be kept indoors. It has not been 16 weeks since this regulation was imposed.
Some farmers in Europe are not following orders to keep poultry indoors, despite the risk.
Gregory Martin, a poultry scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said chickens may not go outside every day even if they are allowed to because barns are comfortable.