Poultry farmers risk losing free-range status over bird flu 'housing order'

A situation is developing around the sale of free-range poultry products here in Ireland.

Poultry farmers have been following a 'housing order' and keeping their birds indoors to avoid the risk of bird flu following an outbreak in the UK late last year.

But the threat is persisting with the virus now detected in a swan in Tipperary and a heron in Cork - the first time it's been confirmed in a resident species here.

EU rules allow a 12 week period for products to continue to be marketed as 'free range' while kept indoors and the Departure of Agriculture has confirmed that our 12 week period ends on March 17th.

The IFA's National Poultry Chairman, Nigel Reneghan, says it poses a serious dilemma for Irish farmers.

"They're allowed to be in for 12 weeks before the free-range status would be lost.

If you had a situation where some farmers lost that free-range status - the problem with that would be that people would automatically then turn and go to their caged eggs, and if they go to caged eggs the market share will be lost, that market would collapse."

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