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Many uncertainties and volatility lie ahead as producers face the Covid pandemic and manage the unprecedented outbreak of avian influenza.
In 2016/17, it was an eleventh-hour call to stamp eggs and label eggboxes as barn. Some of these decisions did not sit well with retailers. We would need consensus on a pre-planned exit strategy if we exceeded the 16-week deadline on the 4th of April 2021. Retailers and industry representatives need to plan together to discuss an exit strategy now, so producers know what is expected well in advance.
The housing order has come earlier than when implemented previously, and it is over 16 weeks to the end of the migration period, and cases are still being discovered, so it is somewhat unlikely that the order will end before the deadline.
National Housing Order: Managing the Stress
On 3rd December, DEFRA announced a housing order, allowing producers 11 days to prepare to keep all of their birds inside. Most producers will remember that the last time this measure was taken was back in the 2016-17 season; on this occasion, the order was introduced a month earlier on 11th November and not lifted until 18th April.
As we move into the new year, the housing order is in full swing and offering unique difficulties for free range producers. Shutting in birds used to being out on the range can cause stress that leads to feather pecking and mutilation. So how are producers rising to this challenge?
We face a repeat of 2017, as avian influenza sweeps through Europe’s wild bird population and onto farms. While free range producers have remained free of infections, some are trapped within the restriction zones battling to get movement licenses.
A housing order looks inevitable, and yet again, we will have to face the implications of the EU 16 week free range status rule. In 2017 producers were left hanging on a cliff edge while the industry tinkered with solutions, which presented itself in the form of over stickers and shelf signs. We need to prepare the solution should it be needed as I recall that retailers were not over keen on the over sticker solution.
Amidst all this, we also need to remember Salmonella is a serious and growing threat; DEFRA’s interpretations of the rules meant that the latest producer to test positive from a boot swab had no option than to cull after a further egg test was refused.