The current housing order will be lifted in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as the risk of bird flu – while still in circulation – has now reduced.
Free-range poultry farmers can let their birds back outside after five months of being housed indoors to protect them from the disease. All poultry will now be allowed outside, including meat chickens and turkey.
Dr Kate Norman, RSPCA’s laying hen welfare expert, said: “We know that many people were really concerned when they could no longer buy free-range eggs. UK shoppers have a good level of awareness about how laying hens have been cared for thanks to clear labelling on eggs, so the news that hens will be let back outside will be welcomed by many.”
More three million egg laying hens have had to be culled due to bird flu since 2021, about seven percent of the industry’s birds, which in turn sparked the need to house birds to protect them from becoming ill or dying.
“Animal welfare is at the heart of what we do so whether the hens are indoors or outdoors, when shoppers look for the RSPCA Assured label, they can be reassured that the hens have been cared for to higher welfare standards,” Norman added. “This means they are 100% cage-free and have access to perches and plenty of enrichment.”
For more than two months shoppers have been unable to buy free-range eggs and instead have only seen ‘barn eggs’ on shelves, as the derogation which allowed them to still be labelled free-range – despite the birds being housed indoors since November – ended in February.
Meanwhile, at the end of last year, calls were made toend ‘fundamentally unfair’ compensation rules for producers affected by the UK’s longest and largest outbreak of bird flu have been made by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.