Free range broiler producers will now benefit from free-range status being applied on a flock-by-flock basis, when birds are forced to be kept inside by a veterinary housing order, Defra has confirmed.
The changes to the derogation, which allows poultry meat to be marketed as free-range in the event of an Avian Influenza outbreak for a period of 12 weeks, provides certainty to poultry meat producers that they will not have to sell their birds into the standard indoor reared market at a significant loss.
The move follows extensive efforts by the NFU and other farming unions to get the rules changed for the benefit of the producer. These efforts included sending a delegation of free-range poultry producers to Brussels to meet with key decision-makers.
These efforts began in February last year during an outbreak of Avian Influenza that saw a housing order imposed for all free-range poultry.
As a result of this housing order, it became clear that the derogation that allows housed poultry to be marketed as free-range should be applied on a flock-by-flock basis.
NFU chief poultry adviser Gary Ford said: “This confirmation provides much-needed certainty for our free-range poultry meat members and will go a long way to resolve concern in the sector.
“Our members were at the heart of this effort and it shows the benefit of farmers working alongside NFU staff in the UK and Brussels.
“Approximately 650,000 free-range broilers are reared every week in England and Wales so this is a decision that will affect farmers across the country. The financial benefit of this decision for affected members cannot be underestimated.
“Of course we hope that we do not have to enter a period where a housing order must be imposed but poultry meat producers are now in a significantly better position to deal with its effects.”