Loophole labels barn chickens as ‘free-range’

A governmental loophole has allowed chickens to be labelled ‘free-range’ even though they have never stepped foot outside due to the avian flu outbreak.

DEFRA has named the crisis as the ‘largest ever outbreak of avian flu’ over the winter as outbreaks nearly reach 100 in England, Scotland and Wales.

The news comes as customers were no longer able to purchase free-range eggs in the UK from 21 March as all British hens have been shielded from the virus indoors for four months.

READ MORE: Animal welfare charity takes UK government to court over ‘Frankenchickens

As a result, eggs sold in stores have been labelled ‘barn eggs’, as farmers were ordered to keep their birds indoors from November.

However, producers who sell their chickens for meat aren’t obligated to inform customers that the birds were not allowed outdoors and can retain their free-range status as long as birds aren’t housed for over 12 weeks.

Thus, free-range birds who are often slaughtered after 8 weeks don’t live long enough for the labelling rule to apply.

“It’s a terrible situation for farmers, but if a free-range chicken has never been allowed outdoors in its life that should be made clear to consumers,” Compassion in World Farming chief policy advisor Peter Stevenson said.

A spokesperson for the British Poultry Council added: “There are no plans to let consumers know as there is no time limit on the derogation to house birds for meat under the poultry meat marketing regulations, unlike eggs which have a derogation to house birds for 16 weeks only.”

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