Free-range eggs are to be taken off the market, following a compulsory housing order for poultry that was put in place at the end of 2016, by The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
The order was introduced following a number of cases of the H1N8 bird flu virus among wild birds since the end of December, as well as a number of cases across Europe. The compulsory order has been implemented as a safety measure against the potential spread of the virus. Currently no domestic birds have been diagnosed with bird flu.
With all poultry housed, farmers are unable to market their products as “free-range” due to EU provisions on marketing and labelling. Roughly 40% of Ireland’s egg output is free-range, alongside 5% of its poultry meat production.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine granted free-range producers a 12-week grace period during which they could continue to market their eggs as such, with this grace period set to end on March 17. The Department will be keeping this decision under regular review, and currently intends to extend it to April 30.
Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has argued that the Department of Agriculture should cover the costs for farmers of packaging changes. Minister of State Andrew Doyle told the Seanad that a temporary label overlay is under consideration to protect the status of Irish ‘free-range’ eggs.
The Department is continuing to monitor the situation via increased surveillance on wild birds and meetings with the poultry industry, and is preparing a range of measures in the event of an outbreak.
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