How do you like your eggs in the morning? Free-range? You’re out of luck.

As a precaution against the H5N8 strain of bird flu which was identified on some farms last winter, many hens have been kept inside since early December. EU regulations state that eggs lose their free-range status if a bird has been kept inside for more than twelve weeks. As a result of this enforced incarceration, many eggs from once free-range chickens have been mis-sold to consumers.

As a temporary solution, free-range egg boxes now bear a sticker reading ‘laid by hens temporarily housed in barns for their own welfare’. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has announced that producers located away from large bodies of water (where sea birds are less prevalent) should be able to keep their flocks outside in the coming months provided they be protected by netting.

Jacqui Dean, the Consumer Affairs Minister, made clear she did not want businesses incurring additional costs for the extra bio-security needed nor for waterside farms to have their product’s reputation sullied.

As a result of the close scrutiny now on the free-range label, two egg brands are now being investigated under the Serious Fraud Act for bolstering their own supply of free-range eggs with eggs from caged hens.

It would be valuable for Economics applicants to consider whether the government should recompense farmers for their loss in profits, should they decide to keep their birds indoors, and the wider impact the government decision would have on the UK economy. Law applicants may wish to look at legal implications for the two egg companies accused of passing-off caged eggs as free-range; whilst applicants to Biology might want to consider the impact of avian flu should it take hold.

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