Lincolnshire poultry farmers are concerned at the financial impact of the bird flue outbreak that hit the county back in December 2016.
More than three farms in Lincolnshire had to cull over 25,000 birds in the last three months (including the 2,000 chicks that were killed over the weekend, which led to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs imposing a derogation until February 28.
Once the derogation has ended, poultry farms in high risk areas such as the Lincolnshire coast will still not be able to let their livestock outside and will lose the ability to label products as free range.
From February 28, these products will have to be labeled as barn eggs rather than free range.
Alison Pratt, spokesperson for the NFU said: “Lincolnshire has a large population of both laying hens and chickens grown for meat and the continuing issues surrounding the avian influenza outbreak could have significant consequences for the county’s free-range producers, as Defra proposes to make some parts of the county a ‘high risk area’ for avian influenza protection.
“NFU has been discussing these issues with government ministers, the European Commission, retailers and the whole poultry production chain.
“Unless NFU can get the derogation extended, all eggs will have to be labelled barn eggs.
“The effect on businesses’ margins could be significant – the price differential between free range and barn for example, is around 20p a dozen.
“However, NFU’s discussions with the packers and retailers are continuing – we’re urging retailers to support our free range producers who find themselves in the High Risk Area and who are unable to let their birds out from 1 March.”
Despite the drop in price of 20p per dozen eggs, poultry farms will still be faced with the same overheads and the situation could lead to the businesses having a big hit on their margins.
For those who will need to relabel their products, a temporary procedure has been planned where products will have a sticker over its current packaging to inform consumers of the change, such as laying hens who remain housed under Defra’s Prevention Zone.
Alford-based L J Fairburn and Son Limited sells between 13 and 14 million eggs a week and is currently classed as being in a low risk area.
However the company is taking the threat very seriously and is still undecided as to whether it will allow its livestock out after February 28, when the ban is lifted.
Sarah Louise Fairburn, Brand & Sales Director for L J Fairburns, said: “Free range has become more and more popular and farmers have heavily invested in it. We need to make sure that we support these farmers in these times.
“We’re still taking advice and it is a big worry for us. We will know more at the end of the week.
“We need to know how it’s going to impact the industry. It’s a very aggressive strain of it and we need to take the best advice to protect our birds and what the consumer wants to buy.
“I would suspect that come April, we will be able to let them all back out, but there’s no official decision that has been made at this time.”