Free-range eggs could be back in supermarkets next week after five months when the government finally lifts the avian flu lockdown.
Bird keepers have been subject to a nationwide housing ordinance since Nov. 7 to help curb an unprecedented number of bird flu cases. As of October 2021, over 330 have been confirmed in the UK.
The Housing Decree meant that eggs from chickens that normally had access to outdoor space and broiler chickens could not be marketed as free range.
The restrictions will be lifted from midnight on April 18 after the risk level was lowered to ‘medium’.
Eggs laid by hens with access to outdoor range can again be labeled as free range.
Pictured: chickens (file photo). Bird keepers have been subject to a nationwide housing ordinance since Nov. 7 to help curb an unprecedented number of bird flu cases. As of October 2021, over 330 have been confirmed in the UK
Some parts of the country, including large parts of Norfolk, remain under lockdown and poultry farmers will have to take stricter biosecurity measures.
Sites with poor biosecurity are rated as medium risk of infection and sites with good biosecurity are considered low risk.
There may still be a risk of infection for several weeks, the environmental service warned.
Dr. Christine Middlemiss, UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, said: ‘While the lifting of mandatory housing measures will be welcome news for bird keepers, rigorous biosecurity remains the most critical form of defense to keep your birds safe.
“Thanks to the hard work of all the bird keepers and veterinarians who have done their part this winter to keep the flocks safe, we are able to take this action.
“However, the unprecedented nature of this outbreak has proven that it is more important than ever for bird keepers to remain vigilant for signs of disease and to maintain rigorous biosecurity standards.”
All clothing of poultry and captive bird keepers should be cleaned and disinfected. They must also minimize the number of people entering and leaving their farms to reduce the risk of spreading bird flu.
They are also told to keep contamination with slurry and manure to a minimum, to suppress vermin and to intensively clean and disinfect the stables.
Pictured: eggs (file photo). The restrictions will be lifted from midnight on April 18 after the risk level was lowered to ‘medium’. Eggs laid by hens with access to outdoor range can again be labeled as free range
The government said the virus poses a very low risk to public health. It added that properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe for consumption.
Despite the low risk, British scientists are concerned that the virus may have jumped to mammals and could one day evolve to transmit more easily between humans.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has also said the threat to humans remains low, as does the risk to food security in the UK.
It said it has so far discovered no positive cases in humans while monitoring those who developed flu or cold symptoms after coming into contact with a bird.
The agency advises people to avoid contact with sick or dead wild birds and to wash their hands after feeding wild birds.
Prominent vaccine makers, such as Moderna and GSK, have said they are willing to make hundreds of millions of bird flu shots for humans if the virus spreads.
Bird keepers have been asked to report possible cases of illness to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
At least 48 million birds have been culled in the UK and Europe since the outbreak began in 2021.
Bird flu can cause birds to stumble and can cause their heads to swell and their necks to twist.
Pictured: chickens (file photo). There may still be a risk of infection for several weeks, the environmental service warned
“Free range egg producers will be relieved to see their hens out again,” said Robert Gooch, CEO of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association.
Richard Griffiths, CEO of the British Poultry Council said: ‘This has been a trying time for the poultry industry, so we welcome the lifting of the housing decision that comes with the reduction in risk levels.
“Less risk does not mean no risk: the health of our birds remains the priority for our members across the country. We urge all bird keepers to maintain effective biosecurity throughout the year to prevent potential contamination and minimize the impact on international trade.”
Last month, the government said it was looking into vaccinating poultry to prevent future bird flu outbreaks, and such vaccinations are currently banned.
However, it said further research was needed and noted that avian flu vaccines would not solve the current outbreak.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that, while rare, the public should remain vigilant about bird flu reaching humans.
The current H5N1 bird flu outbreak began in October 2021 and is unparalleled in scope and longevity.
Last week, the virus first reached the tip of South America.
In February, an 11-year-old girl in Cambodia died after contracting the disease.