Irish free range eggs are about to disappear

After St Patrick's Day they won't be found in supermarkets anymore...

Irish egg producers will not be allowed to call their produce 'free range' from next week onwards - as precautionary measures to prevent the spread of Bird Flu mean that chickens must be kept indoors.

The birds have been kept in isolation since the discovery of cases of the disease in December.

Under EU regulations eggs can only be marketed as free range if the birds are allowed outdoors every day - this is not possible under these restrictions.

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This precautionary measure has been extended to April 30th - and this means that producers will need to drop the 'free range' tag.

"The extension of the Housing Notice means that the 12 week derogation period for free-range produce set down under EU law expires on 17th March. After this date, processors, producers and retailers in the free-range egg and poultry sector must make alternative labelling arrangements in order to remain in compliance with the relevant EU provisions on marketing and labelling of their products," the Department of Agriculture said in a statement.

This will affect the labelling of all free range chicken products.

These actions are designed to protect the "internationally recognised high health status of the national poultry flock" and to prevent the spread of the disease.

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Across the border - Northern Ireland's compulsory housing restrictions will end on March 16th.

The IFA has warned against demands for lower prices for these eggs while the restrictions are in place: 

"All free range production in Ireland comes from small, independently-run family farms whose existence will be threatened if there is any reduction in the price they receive for their eggs or broilers.

"Free range production comes with increased costs and requires significant investment in infrastructure over many years. Similar long term investments have been made by the processing industry in marketing the free range poultry products. A significant premium is required to justify the extra costs and standards associated with free range production; these extra costs are in no way removed from the production system due to the current temporary housing restriction," the IFA said.

It added, "The Department of Agriculture has been very proactive in measures taken to protect the national flock and farmers have complied with these restrictions as required. Any attempts to reduce the value of poultry products derived from free range farmers could have a detrimental effect on the long-term sustainability of this important sector of Irish agriculture."