No more free-range eggs due to bird flu

No more free-range eggs due to bird flu

Free-range eggs

In the Netherlands, the indoor and shielding obligation for poultry has been in force for some time. This has consequences for poultry farms that trade free-range eggs. Because chickens have been cooped up for more than 16 weeks, their eggs are no longer considered free-range and are sold as cheaper free-range eggs. On the other hand, poultry farmers with free-range chickens incur more costs. This is mainly due to the soil on which his company stands, says Harry Hunse of poultry farm Het Drentse Heide Ei. “My chickens can go outside, which means I need more land and an outdoor enclosure. That is expensive.”

Organic eggs

Different rules apply to organic eggs. “It’s a completely different category,” explains Kees Sijbenga. With his biodynamic laying hen farm, he only trades organic eggs. “Free-range chickens are basically free-range chickens that can go outside, and there is an extra surcharge. Organic chickens have more space in the barn, get different food and antibiotics are not used. So you can’t just turn an organic chicken into a free-range chicken.”

Free-range, the link between free-range and organic

Free-range eggs have often been sold cheaper in recent years due to the cage obligation. This worries the Dutch Poultry Farmers’ Union. Chairman Bart-Jan Oplaat: “Companies will soon stop free range completely and go back to free-range. This is detrimental to the chickens, but also to the sector.” Oplaat calls free-range an important link between free-range and organic. “A farmer doesn’t just go from free-range to organic. The investments are too high to do in one go. The step is too big. That is why many poultry farmers often first make the step from free-range to free-range, and a few years later to organic. This intermediate step is therefore crucial.”

Who pays for the damage?

Various supermarkets have decided not to buy the eggs for a lower price. PLUS and the Jumbo have announced that they will continue to pay their poultry farmers the contract price of free-range eggs. According to Oplaat, poultry farmers are not completely out of trouble because of this. “Around 70 percent of the eggs end up in the supermarket, but there are also other buyers. The other 30 percent is sold to parties such as bakeries, restaurants and biscuit manufacturers. They often pay the lower price, so that the bill eventually ends up partly on the farmer’s plate.”

“Man is a creature of habit”

Albert Heijn also continues to buy eggs at the price of free-range eggs. “The eggs remain on the shelf where they always are, in the well-known packaging. We inform our customers via the shelf cards and a special label on the egg cartons,” says a spokesperson.

Oplaat thinks it is positive that the place in the supermarket and the packaging remain virtually the same. “Man is a creature of habit, so he probably takes the same box. If, on the other hand, the shelf with free-range eggs is empty, there is a good chance that the consumer will switch to free-range eggs. That saves money, and people are already more price-conscious in these times of inflation. If consumers have to buy free-range eggs for a longer period of time, this will enter their system. It is not self-evident that they will switch back to free-range eggs when they are available again.”

Cramping is a tool, not a solution

It is unclear how long the chickens will have to stay indoors. Bird flu is still around. Last week there was a major outbreak in the Gelderse Loo, as a result of which 60,000 laying hens were culled. Biodynamic farmer Kees Sijbenga: “Ultimately, the confinement obligation is not a real solution. It is effective, but the farmer can still walk the virus into the barn and mice can transfer it to the chickens.” Moreover, animal welfare is undermined by this measure, he says. “The stress factor of the chickens increases if they have to stay indoors for a long time. They start pecking at each other, getting restless. I have a nice outdoor area for the chickens. It is a shame that they have not been able to use it for weeks now.”

Is a bird flu vaccine near?

Poultry farmers and the union have long been calling for poultry to be vaccinated against bird flu. Wageningen University is currently testing three different vaccines that may work. “These are vaccines that are already at an advanced stage of development,” says avian flu expert Nancy Beerens, also involved in the study. However, this does not mean that the vaccines will be ready for use any time soon. Beerens: “This is really still a laboratory study. You also need to know how the vaccine behaves in practice. We’re going to test that.”

If the vaccine proves effective, mass vaccination cannot yet take place. “First, the vaccine must be registered. In addition, there are also restrictions on the trade if you are going to vaccinate. These are guidelines that have been agreed within the European Union. So there is still a lot of legal work to be done before such a vaccine can be used in the poultry industry,” says Beerens. Nevertheless, the chairman of the Dutch poultry farmers’ union is cautiously positive. “If the vaccine does what it should do, then there is perspective. That is a big step on the way.”

Read more?


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent News

Editor's Pick