Daily Management Review

From Pennsylvania To France, Organic Hens Are Being Quarantined Due To Bird Flu


From Pennsylvania To France, Organic Hens Are Being Quarantined Due To Bird Flu
Chickens that are organic and free-range have been placed under quarantine.
According to egg producers and industry organisations, egg-laying hens that ordinarily have access to the outdoors may no longer roam freely or feel the sun on their beaks because some U.S. and European farmers temporarily confine flocks inside during severe outbreaks of bird flu.
The change comes as a shock to buyers who are already paying extra for eggs as a result of sick flock cullings. Consumers pay more for speciality eggs because they believe they come from chickens who are allowed to leave their barns.
As shoppers check their spending amid record global food inflation, U.S. watchdogs say stores and egg firms must do a better job notifying customers that hens are housed inside.
According to government officials, keeping birds inside is the safest option for the time being because a single instance of bird flu results in the culling of entire flocks. Although the virus can infect humans, researchers say the risk is limited.
According to Reuters' checks of supermarket stores in France, where the government has temporarily compelled farmers to keep chickens indoors since November, some retailers are ignoring obligations to post clear information for consumers about the mandate.
"I didn't know that they had to stay inside," said Josephine Barit, 34, a shopper at a small Paris store that had no indications hens may have been confined.
"So it's not really 'free range' anymore?" she said. "I suppose there is no other choice because of bird flu, but they could say so."
Allowing chickens to spend time outside is regarded to be more compassionate, offering buyers peace of mind when purchasing items from animal farms.
Because migrating birds spread the disease, veterinarians warn poultry with outdoor access are most prone to contracting bird flu, also known as highly pathogenic avian influenza or HPAI. Contact with infectious wild birds, their feathers, or dung can make poultry sick.
The US Department of Agriculture advises producers to confine poultry "as long as the HPAI outbreak continues," but does not require it.
With more than 35 million birds wiped out this year, the US outbreak is the second worst in history.
In France's worst-ever outbreak, approximately 16 million birds have been slaughtered, and diseases have now spread to the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain.
Even when stores post signs informing customers of the shift, some consumers are displeased with European laws to confine chickens.
"At the end of the day you still pay the price of 'free range' or organic eggs when the fowls have actually never seen the sky," said Marc Dossem, 52, a shopper who spoke in a large supermarket in Paris.
Free-range laying hens can be kept indoors for up to 16 weeks before enterprises must provide client advisories, according to EU and British marketing guidelines.
Eggs from "free-range" chickens kept indoors had to be branded "barn eggs" for a time, but starting in May, farmers were allowed to let hens out again.
According to Mar Fernández, Spanish chairman of the Interprofessional Organisation of Eggs and Egg Products, hens must be housed indoors in particular risk and surveillance regions of the country. She claims they haven't gone inside for more than 16 weeks.
"There are countries that no longer have eggs from free-range hens available for months," Fernández said.
The agriculture department stated that the United States does not require organic egg producers to update labels when unanticipated occurrences such as avian flu disrupt production processes. In the United States, eggs branded "organic" and "free range" must come from chickens who have access to the outdoors.
Pete and Gerry's, which claims to be the leading U.S. producer of organic, free-range, and pasture-raised eggs, is one of the providers currently limiting outdoor access. The company offers eggs in Kroger Co and Amazon.com Inc's Whole Foods Market outlets.
"We will be constantly evaluating the exposure risk and will have them back outside in the sunshine as soon as possible," Pete and Gerry's said.
After outbreaks in Europe, Vital Farms Inc, a U.S. manufacturer of pasture-raised eggs, said it confined chickens. Both companies have posted information about the switch on their websites, but their "free-range" and "pasture raised" designations remain unchanged.
Whole Foods, Kroger, and Target Corp all declined to comment on whether they will post alerts for customers.
"Consumers should get what they pay for and they're not getting the product as advertised," said Danielle Melgar, a food advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Despite the dangers, some European poultry breeders are defying instructions to confine their flocks.
"Laying hens can be quite aggressive so we let them out a little bit every day or they will kill each other," said Emilie Ravalli, who runs an organic farm in Corcoue-sur-Logne in western France.
However, hens do not always go outside every day, even when they are allowed to, according to Gregory Martin, a poultry expert at Penn State University.
"Confinement gives us safety," Martin said. "Only live birds produce eggs, so it's to our advantage to keep our birds safe."