- Soil Association
- How is avian flu affecting free-range and organic eggs?
What does avian flu mean for buyers of organic eggs?
Organic eggs are available and offer the best welfare standards for laying hens
On 1 March, Avian Flu measures will have in place for 12 weeks. This means many laying hens have been kept indoors to minimise the chance of them contracting the disease from wild birds. You may see stickers on packs of free-range eggs letting you know the eggs are from temporarily housed birds. But organic labelling is not affected. This is because as well as having the most space for birds to roam, organic standards mean so much more.
With Avian Flu prevention measures still in place keepers of poultry and other captive birds are required to keep birds indoors or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds. These steps include making sure all feed and water is not accessible to wild birds, implementing additional biosecurity measures and could include netting of small range areas (chicken runs). This government requirement includes all flocks, including free range and organic.
Animal welfare is at the heart of organic - no system of farming has higher animal welfare standards. When buying eggs at the moment, choosing organic is the best way to be sure chickens have as much opportunity to exhibit their natural behaviours and will be kept indoors in smaller groups.
Improving conditions for housed birds
Because organic birds are kept in smaller numbers to a house (a lower stocking density), Soil Association certified farmers are in the best position to provide an enriching space to compensate for being indoors, when most chickens would much rather be outside! Organic farmers will do things like ensuring birds have good quality litter to scratch and dust bathe in and provide pecking blocks and forage like hay to keep birds occupied and satisfied. This helps stop them getting bored and helps prevent welfare problems like feather pecking.
While the Avian Flu prevention measures are in place, organic birds will continue to enjoy all of the other benefits of being organic.
Organic Vs free range
- Organic birds live in smaller flocks. The maximum flock size allowed under Soil Association organic standards is no more than 1,000 birds. For all meat birds, the EU organic reg would allow up to 4,800 birds. RSPCA standards recommend no more than 15,000 birds for free-range and 30,000 for indoor. 30,000 is a fairly typical indoor system size. Having fewer birds reduces the risk of serious behavioural problems like feather pecking and cannibalism.
- The routine use of antibiotics is banned in organic
- All organic birds are fed on non-GM feed whereas there are no requirements about GM in free range birds' feed
- Organic birds tend to be breeds that are slower growing and more robust. This puts less strain on their bodies and allows them to develop strong bones and muscles. Their life is usually almost twice as long as that of an intensively reared bird.
You can read more about the differences between organic and free range here.
Organic labelling is not affected by Avian Flu. This is because as well as having the most space for birds to roam, organic standards mean so much more.