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Would you swap free range for barn-reared eggs?

Posted by: Katherine Garratt 29 Mar 17 - 10:30AM  | Engineering
Scott Williams, Senior Consultant for FMCG at Jonathan Lee Recruitment, discusses the disruptive effects of bird flu and asks, with free range eggs not currently available from UK supermarket shelves, whether consumers will buy technically barn-reared eggs?

Would you swap free range for barn reared eggs scott williams FMCG recruitment

Every winter, Avian Influenza (bird flu) becomes a nuisance to the farming community. While produce poses no danger to consumers, the Avian Influenza H5N8 strain outbreaks in Europe and the UK lead to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs introducing an initial 30 day housing order back on the 6th December 2016, having since been extended a further two times - the last extension being confirmed on the 28th February 2017 for a further 12 weeks.

All poultry keepers in high risk areas need to comply with strict disease prevention measures that includes keeping birds indoors or in completely netted structures. The extended restrictions has caused a ripple effect of disruption; from farmers, food manufacturers and supermarkets, to the end consumer.

At the start of the food chain, the necessary controls have slowed farmers and manufacturers normal processes. Even when birds are housed, a risk of infection remains therefore good biosecurity is a necessity. While productivity is negatively affected, the prevention of spreading disease is of paramount importance.

Our clients have certainly been affected and we have seen cancelled factory tours and alternative interview venues having to be arranged. Any kind of contamination or infection would see livestock culls and factories having to be shut down for full decontamination. Contamination could consequently affect the livelihood of many businesses.

In addition to this, from the end of February, all eggs previously labelled ‘free range’ could no longer make that claim because under EU rules, eggs from free range hens who are housed for longer than 12 weeks must be downgraded to ‘barn-reared’. In reaction to this, the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) have taken unprecedented action, by labelling all free-range egg boxes with a welfare sticker (as seen in the image above), regardless of whether the hens are housed inside or out.

While the BEIC’s decision to label all eggs has created a level playing field for farmers, it also compromises many consumer’s conscious of whether they buy technically barn-reared eggs. There will consequently be no free-range eggs on supermarket shelves until the end of April at the earliest, with an extension still a possibly if Avian Influenza H5N8 is not contained.

The premium associated with free-range produce may see food producers witness a decline in demand and ultimately profit, should the well-being of chickens takes paramount concern to consumers.

Mark Williams, the chief executive of the BEIC recently told the BBC: "Our research shows that consumers are supportive of farmers putting birds' health first and 80% are happy to continue to pay the same price, or more, for eggs from free-range flocks temporarily housed inside.”

The government will review the restrictions again at the end of April. It is hoped that the risk will be lower by that time as many wild birds will have migrated.

We want to know if you’ve noticed that you cannot currently purchase free range eggs and if you will continue to buy eggs, please take part in our survey below:

Jonathan Lee Recruitment specialises in the recruitment and resourcing solutions for the FMCG, consumer durables, food and beverage and process markets, providing clients with high calibre candidates in engineering, technical, supply chain and commercial roles.

Find out more:
FMCG brochure
Connect with Scott Williams on LinkedIn
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