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Organic farmers braced for bird flu measures

Date Published: 06/04/2006

Organic eggs and poultry should continue to be available even in the event of a bird flu outbreak, a leading certification body announced today.

Organic Farmers & Growers, which inspects and licenses the vast majority of UK organic eggs and poultry, moved to reassure farmers and consumers that steps were in place to protect the hard won organic status of these products.

This comes in the light of a possible case of the H5N1 virus being found in a swan in Scotland.

If this case is confirmed as avian flu, and in the event of an order to shut birds inside, eggs and poultry will not lose their organic certification as long as they continue to be managed to the rest of the legally required standards.

However, along with other free-range systems, organic birds will lose their free-range status if they are shut indoors for longer than 12 weeks.

Organic Farmers & Growers’ (OF&G) Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, explained: “Whatever way you look at it this is bad news for the UK’s poultry industry. Particularly hard hit will be the free-range producers who have invested heavily in their systems.

“The only good news for organic producers is that they will still be able to produce a product that shoppers can be confident is produced to rigorous and ethical standards, without the routine use of anti-biotics, growth promoters and other undesirable inputs. It will still be called organic and will still be organic.

“Having the birds shut in is far from ideal from a welfare point of view, but organic birds will still have an excellent quality of life until they can be allowed back outside.”

OF&G has also drawn-up contingency plans to keep the annual inspection and licensing system for organic producers running, even if inspectors are not allowed on to farms.

A paper-based declaration will be sent to farmers to complete if their organic status comes up for renewal while under restriction. Once restrictions are lifted an inspector will sent onto to the premises to verify the contents of that declaration.

Mr Jacobs added: “The organic market is still in its infancy and it would be terrible for it to be decimated now through no fault of anyone. We must do all we can to keep our licensees in business and keep a steady supply of organic eggs and poultry moving to shoppers who are loyal to our sector.

“All advice, from around the world, is that it is safe to keep eating eggs and poultry even if there is avian flu in the country and the normal rules of cooking food properly should be applied. We would strongly urge consumers not to panic about this and to trust the advice of the Food Standards Agency.”