Avian influenza and 'free range' status – what does the law say?

31 January 2023

An image of free range eggs

Following the announcement of nationwide AIPZs (Avian Influenza Prevention Zones) we take a look at how packs of ‘free range’ eggs from housed birds should be labelled in England and Wales following the end of the 16-week grace periods. 

On this page you will find answers to:

When did the AIPZs come into force?

As a result of the current AI outbreak, a number of separate AIPZ declarations containing housing measures were introduced in different regions across England and Wales towards the end of 2022.

These AIPZs containing housing measures were introduced in:

Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex on 12 October 2022;
the remainder of England on 7 November 2022; and
Wales on 2 December 2022.

How do the AIPZs affect free range labelling?

Normally, eggs from housed birds cannot be classified as “free range”, but relevant legislation allows the eggs to be marketed in this way for a 16-week grace period.

Defra considers the 16-week grace period to have started from the date that each AIPZ came into force. Therefore, the 16-week grace period will be applied on a regional basis.

Because the housing measures are still in force, eggs laid after the grace period has come to an end cannot be marked as free range.

What happens when the grace period ends?

Under the relevant legislation, eggs which are laid after the grace period ends and are from hens which continue to be housed, can no longer be marketed as 'free range' eggs.

Instead, they must be labelled as 'barn eggs'.

The grace periods end on the following dates: 1 February 2023 in Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex, 27 February 2023 in the rest of England, and 24 March 2023 in Wales. We understand that BEIC (British Egg Industry Council) has issued its own guidance to affected Lion Code producers.

In particular, we understand that BEIC intends for all its affected producers to label packs of eggs as ‘barn eggs’ from 1 February 2023. However, we would suggest that you contact your local EMI if you have any concerns about how your eggs should be labelled or stamped.

We have put together a briefing for members setting out what the legal requirements are in relation to the labelling of eggs following the expiry of the grace periods in England and Wales.

The briefing covers:

  • How packs of eggs from housed birds should be labelled once the grace periods have expired
  • How packs of eggs due to be exported to the EU or Northern Ireland should be labelled
  • Signage and POS (Point of Sale) information that must be provided for consumers
  • How BEIC is asking Lion Code producers to label/stamp packs of eggs
  • Guidance on how organic eggs should be marketed if birds are housed

NFU members can download the briefing in full: NFU member briefing | Labelling eggs after a 'grace period' ends

Further resources:

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