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Avian influenza (bird flu) – Organic update January 2017

Date Published: 27/01/2017

Avian influenza (bird flu) – Organic update

In the face of housing restrictions put in place to control the spread of Avian Influenza (AI) OF&G has asked for clarification from Defra regarding the status of organic free range eggs and poultry.

Under orders placed by Defra in December, all free range hens had to be housed for 30 days to protect against the threat of the H5N8 influenza virus appearing in the UK.

However since the order was implemented a number of cases of the disease have been reported in both wild and farmed UK flocks, forcing the government’s chief vet, Nigel Gibbens, to extend the order until 28 February.

This could pose a problem for organic poultry producers, as under organic regulations, birds must have permanent access to open areas for at least one third of their lives in order to be classed as organic. However, in exceptional circumstances where there is a recognised risk to human or animal health (as is currently the case), there is provision in the organic standards for this requirement not to apply.

Following discussions with OF&G and other organic bodies, Defra has agreed that producers can still label their eggs and meat as organic, provided that all other aspects of the organic regulations are maintained.

In particular, producers have to ensure they provide suitable quantities of roughage while the birds are permanently housed in order to comply with the organic standards.

While producers will be able to label produce as organic, they will not be able to term their meat and eggs as free range. To be classified as free range, birds can only be permanently housed for a maximum of 12 weeks, regardless of circumstances.

OF&G Compliance Manager, Stephen Clarkson, said it was good news for organic poultry producers to have some clarity during a difficult time for the sector.

“Obviously we are in a tough situation, but by ensuring we have a clear interpretation of the free range and organic rules from Defra then at least organic producers can be clear on the regulation and can ensure their packaging is labelled correctly,” he added.

Between October and January there have been about 761 outbreaks of H5N8 in Europe – 51% in poultry and the rest in wild birds. About 1.6 million poultry birds have so far been destroyed following outbreaks 18 European countries.

Avian influenza (bird flu) in winter 2016 to 2017 – Defra