18 July 2018 | Online since 2003

5 March 2018

Housing order rules reviewed

Defra officials have agreed to amend proposed new rules for free range egg producers during housing orders following objections from the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA).

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been reviewing the rules following the winter of 2016-17, when layers were ordered to be locked up after highly pathogenic avian influenza swept across Europe and into the UK. European Union rules at the time allowed free range birds to be housed for just 12 weeks before they lost their free range status - although the European Commission has now increased this period to 16 weeks. Defra agreed temporary arrangements at the time for labelling eggs from birds that had been locked in but has since been working on permanent regulations to cover eggs produced under housing orders.

Draft regulations were drawn up by Defra, but one part of the proposals, in particular, concerned BFREPA. When the EU extended the free range derogation from 12 to 16 weeks for free range birds, it also changed the rules so that the 16-week period would be counted separately for each individual shed on a farm. Defra sought to address this by requiring producers to have a separate stamp for each shed.

"We objected to that and Defra has listened to what we had to say," said Robert Gooch, BFREPA chief executive. "We are very pleased that they listened to our objections at our initial meetings with them and when they came to see us at BFREPA Council and they have now changed to option B, which we are much happier with. The only issue we are now discussing is when this should come into force. Defra want it straight away; we would like to wait until later in Spring to allow producers to get used to the changes," said Robert.

"The problem they had after the EU changed the rules was how would they know on farms with multi-age flocks how long birds had been housed in each shed. Their original proposal was that a suffix would be added to the producer code for each individual shed.It was probably the easiest solution for them but it would mean a separate stamp for every shed and we said we were not happy with that."

Under the amended proposal, egg producers will provide house number and date of placing of the flock in that house on all of transport documents. Defra wants the new rules up and running as soon as possible. BFREPA has asked for implementation to be delayed until June 1 to allow time for producers to make the change.

The new rules drawn up by DEFRA are the 'Egg marketing standards for free range eggs where hens' access to open air runs is restricted' and they outline regulations that will be implemented in the event of future housing orders. During the now extended 16-week derogation, free range eggs will continue to be stamped with the free range code of 1UK. Eggs from birds still housed after 16 weeks will be stamped 2UK - the code for barn eggs. The Defra draft says that eggs cannot be stamped with two codes. The producer cannot continue to stamp with 1UK on farm and rely on the packing centre to stamp with a 2UK.

Defra also details exactly how boxes will be marked during extended housing orders. Eggs produced after 16 weeks must be packed either in barn egg boxes or in free range boxes with permissible over-stickering. The draft says such stickers must obscure all prominent references on the pack to free range and should clearly state that the eggs are barn eggs; it says the size and placement of the sticker should be sufficiently prominent to counter any impression given to the consumer that the eggs were laid by hens with outdoor access; the words barn eggs should appear in the top line, in bold and in a larger font size than subsequent text; the diameter of the sticker should be 30mm; the wording on the sticker should be "barn eggs laid by hens temporarily housed in barns for their well being."

Defra says that organic eggs can continue to be marketed and stamped as organic (0UK) as long all other requirements of EU organic standards are complied with. However, as with other free range eggs, organic eggs will lose their free range status at 16 weeks. The same labelling requirements set out for free range eggs will apply.

Of the agreement to discard the requirement to have separate stamps for individual sheds, Defra says, "Whilst this approach entails less adjustment for the producer, it will only ensure traceability at producers and packing centres. However, it is acknowledged that this approach will have less impact on producers and will enable industry to take full responsibility in correctly applying the method of production sampling," says the draft.

But Defra warns that the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) will carry out checks during their routine visits to ensure producers are complying with the new requirements. "Where eggs are found not to comply, they will be held on site or returned to the packing centre until compliance with the requirements has been achieved," says the draft.

It also warns that a review will be undertaken and if requirements are not being followed it could revert to its original proposals.


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